Every Sunday, I send out an email with seven magnificent things from the past week. Books, articles, blog posts, projects, graphics, ideas, excerpts, videos, songs, tools, artists, art, creators, software, hardware—things that elicit a “Whoa!”, a “Wow!”, a “Huh?” or a “Hmmm.”
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The Magnificent Seven #52: Strolling Under the Skin – 18/07/21
- Strolling Under the Skin
by Dr. Jean-Claude Guimberteau
I ended up watching this because Thomas Myers mentioned it in the talk I linked to last week. It’s a thirty-odd minute documentary about fascia, an elastic, viscous sheath that permeates our entire body. Fascianating stuff.
by Steve Fassbinder
Quote: “I haven’t always ridden alone. I’ve been blessed with lots of great riding partners. But many of my most memorable and influential trips have been without companions. I think this has to do with the heightened awareness required to keep myself safe in the backcountry without a partner to rely on. When I’m on my own, there’s no back and forth. It’s just me and my head and the junk that may be getting in the way. Solo trips have a way of clearing all that mental static, allowing me to fully experience and appreciate primal needs like food, shelter, and rest. It’s alone that I’ve found the clarity and raw experiences that I’m compelled to seek out now and again. And that’s how I ended up shivering and sweating in a little mud hut on the edge of the Wakhan Corridor, feeling like a snake shedding its skin.”
- Ise Jingu and the Pyramid of Enabling Technologies
by Brian Potter
Shot: “Jingu is famous for its tradition of periodic reconstruction, known as Shikinen sengu, or simply sengu. Every 20 years exact copies of Naiku, Geku, and 14 other shrines are built on empty sites next to the existing structures, after which the old structures are torn down. Altogether 65 buildings, bridges, fences, and other structures are rebuilt this way. This reconstruction at Jingu has taken place every 20 years (with some interruptions) for over 1300 years, since the first sengu took place around 690 AD.”
Chaser: “We usually think of technology as a sort of ratchet, that once we as a society learn how to do something, we don’t have to worry about it getting un-learned. If losing process knowledge was a real risk, after all, we might expect a long list of “lost” technologies – techniques that we possessed written descriptions of but couldn’t replicate. But the list is fairly short.
But I wonder if the modern world isn’t increasingly susceptible to losing large chunks of it’s process knowledge. Division of labor increases as the market gets larger – a large, globalized market means technology and civilization is increasingly enabled by thousands of tiny niche skills possessed by a small number of people, and by processes that exist in just a few places around the world. The most advanced semiconductors, for instance, are now built by just one firm, as are the EUV machinesused to build them (I wonder if there are rules about how many ASML engineers are allowed to fly on the same plane together).
The internet and software is only accelerating this trend: as coordination costs get lower, it becomes easier and easier for companies to use outside services instead of building capabilities internally, concentrating knowledge in fewer and fewer organizations.”
- Reversals in Psychology
by Gavin Leech
A tour through some of the psychological insights that have been “reversed” in light of the replication crisis. It’s actually quite scary to read through some of these reversals and find ideas traded as common coin in popular culture (as well as “intellectual” discourse, too). Five that stood out…
One: “No good evidence of anything from the Stanford prison ‘experiment’. It was not an experiment; ‘demand characteristics’ and scripting of the abuse; constant experimenter intervention; faked reactions from participants; as Zimbardo concedes, they began with a complete “absence of specific hypotheses”.”
Two: “No good evidence that tribalism arises spontaneously following arbitrary groupings and scarcity, within weeks, and leads to inter-group violence . The “spontaneous” conflict among children at Robbers Cave was orchestrated by experimenters; tiny sample (maybe 70?); an exploratory study taken as inferential; no control group; there were really three experimental groups – that is, the experimenters had full power to set expectations and endorse deviance; results from their two other studies, with negative results, were not reported.”
Three: “Questionable evidence for an increase in “narcissism” (leadership, vanity, entitlement) in young people over the last thirty years. The basic counterargument is that they’re misidentifying an age effect as a cohort effect (The narcissism construct apparently decreases by about a standard deviation between adolescence and retirement.) “every generation is Generation Me” All such “generational” analyses are at best needlessly noisy approximations of social change, since generations are not discrete natural kinds, and since people at the supposed boundaries are indistinguishable.”
Four: “No good evidence for multiple intelligences (in the sense of statistically independent components of cognition). Gardner, the inventor: “Nor, indeed, have I carried out experiments designed to test the theory… I readily admit that the theory is no longer current. Several fields of knowledge have advanced significantly since the early 1980s.””
Five: “No good evidence that tailoring teaching to students’ preferred learning styles has any effect on objective measures of attainment. There are dozens of these inventories, and really you’d have to look at each. (I won’t.)”
- A philosophy of sound
by Sally Davies
Two parts from this essay stood out.
One: “This attention to notation perhaps dates back to the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, who tried to make a measured metre from the magic and power of the sounds he heard: of ironsmiths in the marketplace, of good company and conversation, of falling pebbles. (Pythagoras once held up a stone before one of his students and declared: ‘This is frozen music.’) Before Pythagoras, Gioia notes, ‘women played a central role in music – especially the drumming that we have come to associate with trance states.’ However, once Pythagoras hit the scene, everything became about the more male domains of mathematics and logos (reason) – that is, measurement and language, instead of the aulos (a pan-pipe made of reeds) and song. As Gioia writes:
“Once [logos] went mainstream, it would punish and censor in turn, so much so that almost all of our subsequent sanctioned narratives about music, both its history and theoretical underpinnings, are distorted to some degree by Pythagorean biases … In other words, the very practice of legitimisation is an act of distortion.””
Two: “Throughout the global pandemic, I’ve noticed how much we need our favourite sounds – sounds that comfort, sounds that heal; the sounds of sports fans, the sounds of lovers, friends, family; the sounds of our pets, of nature. That’s also how sound heals. It’s both individual and communal, a collective of individual sounds. Sound includes rhythm, as we noted above, and rhythm is about timing. The philosopher Thomas Nail has developed a new philosophical ontology – a theory of what it means ‘to be’ – which is something we don’t get very often in philosophy. In Being and Motion (2018), he builds on the ancient philosophy of Lucretius, who argued that all of nature (including space and time) is composed of flows, folds and fields – that is, entropic arrangements and unfolding processes always in motion. When you go to measure anything, you need space and time to do it. But, as Nail convincingly argues, such practices wouldn’t be possible if the flows, folds and fields of motion and movement itself were not already in play. Consciousness never stops moving.”
- The geopolitical fight to come over green energy
by Helen Thompson
Quote: “To think about the energy-origins of western prosperity opens up difficult truths about the place of European empire and the United States’ Middle Eastern wars in the economic history of the twentieth and early twenty-first century. Part of climate idealism contains a desire to leave this unpalatability behind, replacing fossil-fuel imperialism with climate justice. But after the Second World War, western economic life depended on the oil that came out of the Persian Gulf, through the Suez Canal, and into pipelines running to the Mediterranean. The counter-factual that eliminates past wrongs takes a lot else with it, including that which most people in western democracies have little inclination to forsake. Given that battery production presently relies on cobalt mining done in grim conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, sometimes with child labour, and much of the solar-grade polysilicon used in solar panels is produced in Xinjiang, green energy will bring less ethical relief than often supposed.”
- [A Review of] A New Kind of Science
by Cosma Rohilla Shalizi
Counterpoint to any potential enamourment (it’s a word!) with Wolfram’s work that was seeded by a previously linked Lex-Fridman-Wolfram interview.
Review opening: “Attention conservation notice: Once, I was one of the authors of a paper on cellular automata. Lawyers for Wolfram Research Inc. threatened to sue me, my co-authors and our employer, because one of our citations referred to a certain mathematical proof, and they claimed the existence of this proof was a trade secret of Wolfram Research. I am sorry to say that our employer knuckled under, and so did we, and we replaced that version of the paper with another, without the offending citation. I think my judgments on Wolfram and his works are accurate, but they’re not disinterested.
With that out of the way: it is my considered, professional opinion that A New Kind of Science shows that Wolfram has become a crank in the classic mold, which is a shame, since he’s a really bright man, and once upon a time did some good math, even if he has always been arrogant.”
Favourite short excerpt: “As the saying goes, there is much here that is new and true, but what is true is not new, and what is new is not true; and some of it is even old and false, or at least utterly unsupported.”
Favourite long(er) excerpt: “Another egregious weakness is biology. Wolfram displays absolutely no understanding of evolution, or what would be necessary to explain the adaptation of organisms to their environments. This is related to his peculiar views on methodology. If you want to get a rough grasp of how the leopard might get its spots, then building a CA model (or something similar) can be very illuminating. It will not tell you whether that’s actually how it works. This is an important example, because there is a classic theory of biological pattern formation, or morphogenesis, first formulated by Turing in the 1950s, which lends itself very easily to modeling in CAs, and with a little fine-tuning produces things which look like animal coats, butterfly wings, etc., etc. The problem is that there is absolutely no reason to think that’s how those patterns actually form; no one has identified even a single pair of Turing morphogens, despite decades of searching. [See “Update, 4 March 2012” below.] Indeed, the more the biologists unravel the actual mechanisms of morphogenesis, the more complicated and inelegant (but __reliable__) it looks. If, however, you think you have explained why leopards are spotted after coming up with a toy model that produces spots, it will not occur to you to ask why leopards have spots but polar bears do not, which is to say that you will simply be blind to the whole problem of biological adaptation.
Leaving evolution and adaptation to one side, saving the qualitative phenomena doesn’t mean that you have the right mechanism, even qualitatively. If, in addition, you want quantitative accuracy — either for engineering purposes, or to compare hypotheses which all produce the same qualitative results — you obviously can’t just get by with Wolfram’s “new kind of science” — or, as we say in the trade, with toy models. To be fair, toy models sometimes can be quantitatively accurate, but only in peculiar circumstances which do not generally obtain, and certainly don’t extend to Wolfram’s toys. We must not, however, expect this to deter a man capable of summarizing his methodology in the brilliant aphorism, “I am my own reality check.”“
The Magnificent Seven #51: Everything is Fertile – 11/07/21
- Everything is Fertile
by Nick Cammarata
Quote: “I was originally attracted to Miyazaki and Shulgin because they spent their lives exploring enchanted places. But in truth, I was an escapist missing their most potent lesson: exploration changes our perspective and forces us to pay attention, but this perspective can be brought back. By spending a lifetime dreaming of magical lands or flying with transforming elves one crafts the eyes to finally appreciate home.
I still believe in exploration, whether that means diving into new fields of knowledge, flooding your brain with neurotransmitters, or having first dates that require passports. These experiences give you magic eyes and allow you to see things in new ways. Jiro’s eyes allow him to appreciate the mechanical beauty of the Ghibli engine, a falcon’s eyes let it glide using the vortexes of the wind, and Shulgin’s eyes allow him to notice the beauty of a woodpile.”
- We the screamers
by Arthur Koestler
Quote: “For, after all, you are the crowd who walk past laughing on the road; and there are a few of us, escaped victims or eyewitnesses of the things which happen in the thicket and who, haunted by our memories, go on screaming on the wireless, yelling at you in newspapers and in public meetings, theatres and cinemas. Now and then we succeed in reaching your ear for a minute. I know it each time it happens by a certain dumb wonder on your faces, a faint glassy stare entering your eye; and I tell myself: Now you have got them, now hold them, bold them, so that they will remain awake; but it only lasts a minute. You shake yourself like puppies who have got their fur wet; then the transparent screen descends again and you walk on, protected by the dream-barrier which stifles all sound.”
- Anatomy Trains
by Tom Myers, Talks at Google
This forty-five minute talk is a great introduction to a more holistic, systemic approach to thinking about the human body. I remember–when I was involved in coaching movement and personal training years back–excitedly purchasing a slew of anatomy texts. One of them was the second edition of Tom Myers’ Anatomy Trains (there’s now a fourth). Until now, I hadn’t really appreciated the paradigmatic difference of approach between the myofascial meridians and more conventional, lever-based anatomy.
Popular culture is just (only just) starting to understand organisations at all scales–from families, to towns, to industries, to continents–as complex systems. The dialogue around health and fitness needs to make the same shift, and the myofascial meridians are a key, physiologically-focused component of that evolving understanding.
- Integral Theory
by Ken Wilber
Quote: “Ken Wilber’s AQAL, pronounced “ah-qwul”, is the basic framework of Integral Theory. It suggests that all human knowledge and experience can be placed in a four-quadrant grid, along the axes of “interior-exterior” and “individual-collective”. According to Wilber, it is one of the most comprehensive approaches to reality, a metatheory that attempts to explain how academic disciplines and every form of knowledge and experience fit together coherently.”
- Multiple blogs
by Dorian Taylor
From Spreadsheet Rantifesto: “Actual spreadsheets import all the problems of CSV and have plenty of their own. This is because machines don’t make spreadsheets, people make spreadsheets. A spreadsheet is an integrated development environment for non-programmers; it is intended to be produced and consumed directly by human beings. Very little consideration is given to the life of the data beyond the confines of the spreadsheet program.”
From The Nerden of Dorking Paths: “I guess the moral of this story is, if you start projects without really worrying about finishing them, you may finish them eventually, but you will also have a mountain of byproduct that is arguably more valuable.”
From Setting the Tone for an Anti-Platform: “The only thing GitHub does that is truly novel, in my view, is the pull request. This instrumented process dramatically lowers the friction, for all parties involved, of enlisting other people to help improve your software. GitHub’s role is mainly authenticating the proponent of the request, automating the parts that can be automated, and furnishing a user interface for the parts that can’t. Prior to GitHub’s intervention, both sending and accepting code patches, for those without direct access, was a colossal pain in the ass. In open-source git terminology, the plumbingfor this functionality was already present, but it took for-profit GitHub to provide a vision for the porcelain.”
From The Symbol Management Problem: “Web development is particularly rife with symbols, because at the end of the day, you’re just schlepping text. A number of these symbols—CSS class names and HTML IDs, URL query keys and form keys—straddle multiple technical specifications because they are meant to serve as junctions that connect the different technologies together. On a more organizational level, many of these objects correspond to entities and relations in internal databases, classes, properties and methods in object-oriented code, or objects in legacy or third-party information systems. A significant chunk of the work of Web application development reduces to mapping these disparate objects to one another, usually in an ad-hoc way.”
- Physicists get close to taming the chaos of the ‘three-body problem’
by Charlie Wood
Quote: “That’s exactly what Kol, also of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has done. Stone and Leigh and previous groups have focused on the boundary of that chaotic region, a place where three-body systems transition from chaos to regular motion by kicking out one body.
Kol, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in contrast, studies a metaphorical “hole” in the chaotic volume, where such a transition is more likely to take place. The longer a three-body system bounces around inside the chaotic region, the more likely it is to find such a hole, ejecting a member and escaping chaotic motion. The nature of this exit or exits, Kol believes, tell you everything there is to know about the statistical three-body problem.
Stone and Leigh’s previous approach imagined the chaotic region as “a balloon and the entire surface is a little leaky and it has the same leakiness everywhere,” Stone said. “Barak [Kol]’s approach is saying that ‘No, the balloon has discrete holes and some patches that are leakier than others.’””
- Chitrali Mythology
by Muhammad Huzaifa Nizam
Quote: “Though not much is known as to what the ancient belief system of the Chitralis was, traditions have preserved the tales of many creatures and entities of the archaic mythology which show a strong synthesis of external influences with the local cultures. The main creatures include fairies and phoenixes, cyclopes and fire giants, ghoul horses and celestial wolves, pixies and giants amongst others. Each creature is unique in its links to creatures of other ancient neighboring mythologies.”
The Magnificent Seven #50: Other Roads, Part One – 04/07/21
- Other Roads, Part One
by Tim Morgan
An introduction to surplus energy economics that focuses on recent commitments to get to net zero. Quote: “This is where alternative approaches are so important. To be clear, economic orthodoxy describes a robust economy that doesn’t exist, whilst policy orthodoxy is based on the continuation of positive trends which, it turns out, don’t exist either.
The SEEDS approach begins with three observations, familiar to regular readers and requiring only the briefest introduction for those for whom this is new.
First, the economy is an energy system, because literally everything which constitutes economic output is a product of the use of energy.
Second, whenever energy is accessed for our use, some of that energy is always consumed in the access process. This second principle establishes the role of the Energy Cost of Energy (ECoE), and divides the stream of energy and its associated economic value into “cost” (ECoE) and “profit” (surplus) components.
The third principle is that money has no intrinsic worth, but commands value only as a ‘claim’ on the products of the energy economy.
An economy stripped of money would have to resort to barter, or would have to create a replacement human artefact as a medium of exchange.
An economy stripped of energy, on the other hand, would, as of that moment, cease to exist.”
Also worth a peak is a post dedicated to introducing surplus energy economics.
- Embodied Cognition
by Lawrence Shapiro and Shannon Spaulding
An entry from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. My only real understanding of embodied cognition proper comes from reading Lakoff and Johnson’s Philosophy in the Flesh. The linked SEP entry offers a (relatively) succinct overview of the topic, as you’d expect.
Quote one: “Embodied Cognition is a wide-ranging research program drawing from and inspiring work in psychology, neuroscience, ethology, philosophy, linguistics, robotics, and artificial intelligence. Whereas traditional cognitive science also encompasses these disciplines, it finds common purpose in a conception of mind wedded to computationalism: mental processes are computational processes; the brain, qua computer, is the seat of cognition. In contrast, embodied cognition variously rejects or reformulates the computational commitments of cognitive science, emphasizing the significance of an agent’s physical body in cognitive abilities. Unifying investigators of embodied cognition is the idea that the body or the body’s interactions with the environment constitute or contribute to cognition in ways that require a new framework for its investigation. Mental processes are not, or not only, computational processes. The brain is not a computer, or not the seat of cognition.”
Quote two: “Attention to the way in which our own conscious experiences are structured by our bodies and environments reveals that there is no substantial distinction between mind and body. The embodiment of cognition makes our own and others’ minds just as observable as any other feature of the world.”
- Advancing AI theory with a first-principles understanding of deep neural networks
by Sho Yaida
Quote: “Approaching the problem from a physicist’s perspective, The Principles of Deep Learning Theory improves on this infinite-width limit by laying out an effective theory of DNNs at finite width. Physicists traditionally aim to create the simplest and most ideal model possible that also incorporates the minimum complexity necessary for describing the real world. Here, that required backing off the infinite-width limit and systematically incorporating all the corrections needed to account for finite-width effects. In the language of physics, this means modeling the tiny interactions between neurons both in a layer and across layers.
These may sound like small changes, but the results are qualitatively different between the existing toy models and the one described in the book. Imagine two billiard balls heading toward each other. If you used a noninteracting model analogous to the infinite-width limit to calculate what was about to happen, you’d find that the balls pass right through each other and continue in the same direction. But obviously that’s not what happens. The electrons in the balls cannot occupy the same space, so they ricochet off each other.
Those interactions — however small they may be for individual electrons — are what prevent you from falling through your chair, through the floor, and straight toward the center of the earth. Those interactions matter in real life, they matter in physics, and they matter to DNNs as well.”
The paper referred to in the linked post–The Principles of Deep Learning Theory–is publicly available here.
- On Contagion
by Daisy Lafarge
Part of a longer series titled Hypochondria. Quote: “I marvelled at the almost religious conviction with which I’d been sure of my symptoms, and wondered what would have taken their place had I not been reading about schistosomes. Perhaps my conviction was attributable to the diffuse, collective anxiety in the air at that time, a heightened awareness of microbial life; perhaps it demonstrates an extreme version of what we can undergo while reading, a kind of overidentification of body with text.
This temporary inability to distinguish between what we read and what we are reminds me of the anthropologist Gregory Bateson’s distinction between a playful ‘nip’ and an aggressive ‘bite’. While pondering abstraction in human communication, Bateson found his unlikely conclusions at the zoo, watching two monkeys play-fighting. In the play-fight, a nip is a trompe l’oeil; it looks like a bite but it isn’t.
Our ability to ‘read’ the nip amounts to both seeing and dismissing the mirage of the bite. For Bateson this seeing is a crucial step in the evolution of communication. Without it, there would be no metaphor, fiction or fantasy. The map would be conflated with the territory, dreams with reality, and the nip would be taken as a bite. Infection really would breed in the sentence, threatening an intromissive malaise.”
- Top 100 3D Renders from the Internet’s Largest CG Challenge
Quote: “Over the last month, I challenged 3D artists with the Alternate Realities CG challange. I provided an animation for everyone to work from, and the results were stunning. 2,400 artists delivered, the top 100 were chosen for this montage, and 5 of them walked away with insane prizes from Rokoko, Wacom, Quixel, PNY and Aftershokz (I personally reached out to my favorite companies in order to give away the tools I use every day.)”
There’s also a longer version with all submitted entries, as well as a directory of the featured artists.
- June 24 2016: The day the world changed?
by Anand Menon
Quote: “In her second speech at that same conference, the Prime Minister was explicit in saying the UK would have an independent trade policy. Shortly afterwards, she met with the UK’s Ambassador to the EU, Ivan Rogers. ‘You’ve made a decision’ the mandarin told her, ‘This gives me clarity. I can work with this. We’re leaving the Customs Union.’
The Prime Minister’s response? ‘I have agreed to no such thing.’ The idea of rhetoric without consequences, policy bereft of understanding of key terms and realistic trade-offs had taken hold. And, if you are not prepared to take consequences for your own actions, the natural solution is to blame someone else.
As early as April 2017, Theresa May was accusing the opposition of jeopardizing Brexit preparations and weakening the Government’s negotiating position. As with Parliament, so too with the judges. The High Court decision in the first Miller case in 2017 was significant not only on its own terms, but for the response it elicited.
The judges were labelled ‘Enemies of the People’ by the Daily Mail, while the Daily Telegraph went with ‘[t]he day democracy died’. Not to be outdone, Business Secretary Sajid Javid said that the ruling ‘was an attempt to frustrate the will of the British people and it is unacceptable’.”
Following on from my re-implementation of coffee coin, I ended up looking at the actual impact of caffeine. Examine.com turned out to be quite the resource.
Quote: “Caffeine’s main mechanism concerns antagonizing adenosine receptors. Adenosine causes sedation and relaxation when it acts upon its receptors, located in the brain. Caffeine prevents this action and causes alertness and wakefulness. This inhibition of adenosine can influence the dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, and adrenaline systems.
Habitual caffeine use leads to tolerance. This means the effects of caffeine will be diminished, often to the point where the only benefit a user experiences is caffeine’s anti-sleep effect. This is an ‘insurmountable’ tolerance, which means more caffeine will not overcome it. A month-long break from caffeine will reduce tolerance.”
The Magnificent Seven #49: Breaking Points – 27/06/21
- Breaking Points
by Agnes Callard
Quote: “And this is part of what we love about love: that it affords us an opportunity to lose control, to go a little crazy. But does it really follow from this that a free and clean exit is available? I don’t think so. Even if it is impossible to moralize one’s way into passion, it remains open to us to moralize about passions that are already in place. There are more regulations governing exiting relationships than entering them.
These regulations exist not in spite but because of the fact that the connections between people are idiosyncratic and passionate. It is precisely because such connections are irreplaceable that disconnection is not a trivial matter. Over time, people’s lives grow together, such that what happens to one person affects the other. When I come to care deeply about you, I can actually feel your pain. And that lateral growth also makes vertical growth possible: with your hand in mine, I become someone who waltzes, paints walls, and drinks Japanese tea that looks and tastes like the forest floor. (Having spent a year abroad in Osaka, my friend introduced me to tea ceremonies.)
You can’t waltz by yourself. When I lose you, I also lose the me I became for you. And vice versa. Which is why cutting you off, once we have grown together, is an act of violence. I am not cutting anything visible, like your arm or leg, but I am nonetheless cutting away something that is a part of you—me. This is an act of psychological violence.”
- The Most Dangerous Gamer
by Taylor Clark
Quote: “While moments like this tend to confirm Blow’s reputation as a misanthrope, he is in fact almost obsessively conscientious. It’s just that he has no patience for coddling or bullshit. At his Berkeley office many months later, as I was playing a more polished build of The Witness, I turned to Blow at the next desk and asked if I was missing some clue for a specific puzzle. He fixed me with a stare that could hammer a nail into a wall. “The clue is, you’re doing it wrong,” he said. In other words: don’t ask me to do your thinking for you.
Even Blow’s friends choose words like difficult and spiky when describing him. “You have to approach Jon on Jon’s terms,” said Chris Hecker, his closest game-industry friend, over empanadas with Blow at an airy Oakland café. “It’s not ‘Let’s go out and have fun.’ It’s more like ‘Let’s discuss this topic,’ or ‘Let’s work on our games.’ You don’t ask Jon to hang out, because he’ll just say ‘Why?’””
- Synthetic Messenger
by Tega Brain / Sam Levine
Quote: “Synthetic Messenger is a botnet that artificially inflates the value of climate news. Everyday it searches the internet for news articles covering climate change. Then 100 bots visit each article and click on every ad they can find.
In an algorithmic media landscape the value of news is determined by engagement statistics. Media outlets rely on advertising revenue earned through page visits and ad clicks. These engagement signals produce patterns of value that influence what stories and topics get future coverage. Public narratives around existential issues like climate change are shaped by these interwoven algorithmic and economic logics, logics that are presently leveraged by the fossil fuel industry.
Synthetic Messenger is a second-order climate engineering scheme to manipulate the algorithmic systems that shape these narratives. Climate engineering describes deliberate, large-scale interventions in the Earth’s climate system, typically referring to speculative methods such as solar radiation management or carbon dioxide removal (either by machine or biophysical processes like tree-planting and soil management). At a time when our action or inaction has distinct atmospheric effects, the news we see and the narratives that shape our beliefs also directly shape the climate. What if media itself were a form of climate engineering, a space where narrative becomes ecology?”
- The Full Story of the Stunning RSA Hack Can Finally Be Told
by Andy Greenberg
Quote: “In the decade that followed, many key RSA executives involved in the company’s breach have held their silence, bound by 10-year nondisclosure agreements. Now those agreements have expired, allowing them to tell me their stories in new detail. Their accounts capture the experience of being targeted by sophisticated state hackers who patiently and persistently take on their most high-value networked targets on a global scale, where an adversary sometimes understands the interdependencies of its victims’ systems better than victims do themselves, and is willing to exploit those hidden relationships.
After 10 years of rampant state-sponsored hacking and supply chain hijacks, the RSA breach can now be seen as the herald of our current era of digital insecurity—and a lesson about how a determined adversary can undermine the things we trust most.”
- The Disturbing New Hybrid of Democracy and Autocracy
by Anne Applebaum
Quote: ” The Orlen saga is a warning not just about state companies, but about democracy, a political system that nowadays rarely disappears the way it used to do. In order to undermine a democracy, you no longer need tanks on the streets or colonels bursting into the presidential palace. You can create your one-party state very slowly, over many years, just by massaging the rules, shifting money around, putting pressure on courts and prosecutors, eliminating unpleasant media, and above all by creating the oligarchs who will fund your projects, block your enemies, enable you to use state money to enrich your party or your family. This method is much more lucrative, and much less stressful than the old-fashioned coup d’état, and it’s coming to a democracy near you.”
The above article pairs well with The anatomy of backsliding–brought about by a collapse in the separation of powers, vulnerabilities in basic political rights and civil liberties, and undermining the integrity of electoral processes, according to the author–and Is the UK sleepwalking into authoritarian rule?
- How Pesticides are Harming Soil Ecosystems
by Meg Wilcox
Quote: “With conventionally farmed land, “anything synthetic is hurting the natural ecosystem of the soil,” said Ward, whose acreage is now largely certified organic. “As you transition away from that, the life comes back.”
By life, Ward means the rich diversity of insects and other soil invertebrates—earthworms, roundworms, beetles, ants, springtails, and ground-nesting bees—as well as soil bacteria and fungi. Rarely do conversations about the negative impacts of pesticide use in agriculture include these soil invertebrates, yet they play a vital role in soil and plant health and sequestering carbon. Worms eat fallen plant matter, excrete carbon-rich casts and feces, cycle nutrients to plants, and create tunnels that help the soil retain water. Beetles and other soil insects feed on the seeds of weeds, or prey on crop pests such as aphids.
But those critical functions are jeopardized by more than a billion pounds of pesticides used in the U.S. every year, according to a new peer-reviewed study. Compiling data from nearly 400 laboratory and field studies, researchers at the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and the University of Maryland found that pesticides harmed beneficial soil invertebrates in 70.5 percent of cases reviewed . Studies conducted in the field alone, however, resulted in fewer significant negative impacts (about 50 percent of cases reviewed).”
- What Is Intermittent Fasting?
by Precision Nutrition
I looked at this resource for a very specific reason: I’m looking to evolve my coffee coininto a consumption coin. That means using consecutive coin tosses to determine a fasting pattern, as well as my coffees for the day. It seemed like a sensible idea to do a little research before diving into a fasting program and that’s been validated. While I’m ignoring any specific methodology mentioned in the linked resource I will likely work through the recommended approach for architecting, executing and evaluating a fasting plan.
The Magnificent Seven #48: How organisations are changing – 20/06/21
- How organisations are changing
by Simon Wardley
Short quote: “Being good at the past turns out to make adoption of the future that bit more difficult.”
Long quote concerning the next “next” generation of organisations: “The next generation company is not seeking to return to the office but adapting to a more remote world. This form of remote working — in many cases enforced by the isolation economy — is now seen as the new norm. The company is driven by guiding principles which are often stated and enforced in both recruitment and promotion. Distribution of power to where it is needed matters. Teams will often swarm around problems, leadership is transient in nature and leaders will arise to fit the problem. In this world, hierarchy is unimportant and few care about the top floor office or the status symbols of power. What motivates people are customer and societal outcomes. Outcome not output matters. The projects undertaken always consider the wider community and sustainability is not a buzz word but a core belief. In support of this, a deep understanding of supply chains are essential, these tend to be modelled as the company views that it is responsible for its entire supply chain. Ethics also matter a lot, it drives external communication, it is not an add-on. Awareness of the market also matters, it is systemic (throughout the organisation) and not the function of a sole leader but instead everyone. To train people, the company used scenarios and gameplay, usually online. The idea of Eve online being a training tool is not an alien concept. In terms of future technology, the company views that AI will replace some tasks and augment some functions currently undertaken by humans. It also consdiers the future of the company to be currently one of growth with positive times ahead.”
Also worth a look is the referenced “doctrine“.
- A Brief Introduction to Esoteric Languages
by Hillel Wayne
My first introduction to esolangs and to code golf. Not something I’ll try anytime soon, but an interesting reflection of behaviours in other domains (e.g. micro-fiction, or even mathematical proofs).
I also read about clever vs insightful code–“Insight is often non-generalizable: the clever solution for a problem will look nothing like the clever solution for a similar one”–and cheatsheets–“Cheatsheets need to be dense. The more information you pack into a single page, the more likely someone’s going to find what they need… if they already know what they need.”
- How to Do Philosophy For and With Children
by Jana Mohr Lone
Quote: “Rather than teach philosophy, we try to do philosophy with children by creating spaces for them to explore the questions that interest them. Ordinarily, I begin with a philosophically suggestive prompt. Important philosophical questions and ideas – subjects such as the meaning of happiness, justice and fairness, the relationship between freedom and community, the nature of beauty, and many other matters – emerge not only from the works of classic and contemporary philosophers, but also from picture books and other children’s literature, art and music, film, games and activities, and from many of the ordinary activities we engage in every day.
I then ask the children: ‘What questions does this make you wonder about?’ The students spend a little time reflecting and coming up with philosophical questions, sometimes in small groups. Once they’ve shared their questions, they generally vote on which questions would be most interesting to explore. The children then spend the bulk of the philosophy session discussing those questions.”
- Annual Report 2020/2021
by The Good Law Project
An annual report from an organisation that is actually achieving the unenviable task of holding the rotting UK government to account–and whom by doing so are attracting direct, state-resource-backed opposition.
Quote: “Covid has laid bare the systemic inequalities that different groups face, and in many ways reinforced the structures that sustain them. We believe Britain to be a fair society and, though some groups are at the margins, we do our best to level up. But Covid has shown that in a racial context it’s not just poor groups who are vulnerable to inequality. It’s also our middle classes, for instance those doctors and other senior health professionals from BME backgrounds who died of Covid. That’s what’s really troubling – Government knows BME communities are disproportionately impacted but they haven’t shifted their resources to reflect the fact. Whether it’s incompetence or neglect, it’s a very hard record to defend. There will have to be a public inquiry into the national Covid response, and this will be one of the many questions for Government to answer.”
- Documenting Afghans in the Forever War
by Adam Ferguson
Quote from the brief write-up linked: “As time went on, the work began to feel limited. I became disillusioned making photos that, despite my best intentions, turned soldiers into heroes and reinforced the spectacle of the military-industrial complex. After working on a story for __Time__magazine, a military wife wrote to thank me for supporting “our troops.” Her email unsettled me, and I received many more like this. After covering a civilian casualtycaused by US Marines in 2010, a military public affairs office who facilitated the trip congratulated me on the great work.
I always felt compassion for the young men and women I embedded with, but the last thing I wanted to be doing as a photojournalist was create work that reinforced a sense that what was happening in Afghanistan was a noble fight. Because in my mind, it wasn’t.
On the ground, I saw confused young soldiers and marines who had joined the war in the spirit of post-9/11-nationalism and who now patrolled out of remote combat operations posts fighting farmers and villagers who had no apparent affiliations with Al Qaeda.
Many of the troops I spent time with struggled to reconcile the disconnect between what had happened on 9/11 and who they were fighting. The Afghans in the remote districts I visited lived in mud houses. There were inadequate medical services, little education for girls, and widespread poverty. The missions I went on were primarily to manage security, deliver and maintain democracy, and show force. I couldn’t help but think we were storm troopers patrolling through medieval villages—an imperial power occupying a sovereign land.”
Ferguson’s own site contains a larger set of portraits, some of which are striking.
- About Falling and Failing
by Nils Teisner
I’ve been watching Nils on Instagram for a while (I use Instagram primarily for movement inspiration). His own site has archives of many of his movement videos. There’s a mix of compilations, pure movement recordings, concept explainers and explorations, and instructionals. For anyone interested in the more improvised, ground- and soft-acro-orientated kinds of movement, I’d recommend Nils’ work.
- Campaign 2
by Critical Role
I don’t watch TV much. Nor movies, really. But every week since January 15th, 2018, I’ve made time to watch the latest Critical Role episode. All one hundred and forty-one of the three-to-five hour, live-streamed Dungeons and Dragons sessions. This week, the second campaign came to a close and I was surprised by how sad I was.
In the past two and a half years of watching the show, many things have changed in my life. Most for the better and only a very few for the worse. After the final moments–and after DM Matt Mercer’s final, tearful, “Is it Thursday yet?”–I was struck with a dual sense of loss and of gratitude. The former because, for now, the story has been told. The latter, for ever, because I was fortunate enough to experience it.
It’s a feeling similar to when I finish reading a book of fiction. And it’s a feeling that always leaves me somewhat awestruck and somewhat energised. Awestruck that stories can evoke such emotion and energised because–despite all that ails modern society–I have the tools to tell my own stories. Not only my lived experience, but any experiences I care to imagine.
The close of the second campaign has reminded me of the value I find in stories–primarily reading them, but also writing them–and it has made me keen to get back to that beautiful art.
Before I can do that, however, I have a little more computing to learn. If all goes to plan, in a month or two I’ll be starting work on a long pent up tale. A story about a man who goes into a forest…
The Magnificent Seven #47: Cognition in the Wild – 13/06/21
- Cognition in the Wild
by Bonnitta Roy
Found in the second volume of The Side View‘s journal. Quote: “The Polynesian and Micronesian seafarers employed these features of sensorimotor-perception-action feedback loops as wayfinding techniques to cross enormous swaths of open ocean. They did not employ a Cartesian coordinate system as a mental model to navigate. They did not even experience themselves as moving through space, but rather, they moved through time, while the stars, oceans, winds, and birds moved toward and alongside them, effectively incorporating the parallax effect to see that the islands were also moving (Hutchins 1995). These “moving islands” were named etak.
From a Westerner’s perspective, the canoe might be moving along a line from west to east, marking distance. From the view on the canoe, the canoe is ground zero, the still point, and the island moves across the horizon “backwards” marking time.
The image of the etak reference island moving along just below the horizon can be quite naturally tied to the passage of time. Part of the knowledge that a navigator has about every voyage is the amount of time he can expect the trip to take under various conditions. . . . In terms of the movement of the reference island, this means that the island will move from a position under the initial bearing to a position under the final bearing in the expected time. (Hutchins 1995, 85)
Notice from the description how the seafarer experiences the movement of the island as marking time. Furthermore, as Hutchins describes, no real island is actually necessary. On voyages where there are no real islands that serve as reference islands, the seafarers imagine one or more etaks by giving them an imaginary bearing that correlates to positions on the arc along the horizon that traces the rising and falling of stars from dusk to dawn.”
- Huddle Together: Social Spiders and Their Myriad Guests
by Maitry Jani
Quote: “Social spider colonies have some similarities with bees or ant colonies. Like social insects, many individuals live together in a nest-like structure and cooperate in different activities. But the similarities end here. Social insects have a highly developed system of task differentiation among individuals through division of labour. The queen bee or queen ant is an egg-laying machine while sterile workers, who are sisters of the queen, perform most of the tasks inside and outside the nest and drones — the males of the colony — mate with the future queen. Social spiders have no caste system. All the adult females can reproduce, and all of them perform all the tasks. There does not seem to be any division of labour.”
The linked site also has some interesting content concerning Indian species, habitatsand conservation. For more spider-centric ideas, check out Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time; it’s a romp.
- The Challenges of Animal Translation
by Phillip Ball
Quote: “If we could speak to them, dolphins wouldn’t understand the metaphor of a glass being half full or half empty. But how much does that matter? We can be discouraged by the fact that concepts that are universal among humans have no place in the conceptual landscape of the dolphin; alternatively, we can be encouraged by the possibility that there might be any overlap at all. It’s incredible to think that people and dolphins might communicate about anything, even seaweed; also, it’s striking to imagine dolphins shaking their heads, or the equivalent, over our inability to grasp concepts that seem obvious to them. It may be that the most interesting, revealing part of dolphish is precisely the part that lies outside our own lexicon—which is to say, outside our own minds. If, in fact, we find ourselves unable to fully reconstruct another creature’s mental world, it may be enough just to acknowledge the reality of what we can’t articulate.”
- A Millenial Considers the New German Problem After 30 Years of Peace
by Ulrike Franke
Quote: “Of course, the world has not stood completely still during the last 30 years. But from 9/11 to the Global War on Terror to the financial crisis, these events did not happen to us. The Bundeswehr went into a war in Afghanistan, but this did not impact society at home. The 2003 Iraq invasion made some millennials demonstrate against American imperialism, but otherwise, it was far removed from our reality. The conflicts of the world seemed a testimony of the fact that others had not yet understood that ideological fights were futile. The financial crisis perhaps came closest to being a defining event for German millennials, but since Germany managed to get through it so well, it only reinforced the sense that Germany had a better system than most.
Moreover, on the domestic level, Germany experienced an extraordinary continuity in the last 30 years. I am 34 years old, and during my lifetime, I have known three German chancellors. I even remember being somewhat baffled that Helmut Kohl’s chancellorship could end: He had come to power five years before I was born and was succeeded by Gerhard Schröder when I was 11. Schröder was in power for seven years. And for the last 16 years, there has been Angela Merkel. To compare, an American of the same age has lived through seven presidencies. A Brit of my age has known seven prime ministers and an Italian nearly 20. Even more strikingly, during all but seven years of my life, Germany was governed by a government led by the same party, the union of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany and the Christian Social Union in Bavaria.”
- Hacking the Cis-tem
by Mar Hicks
Quoting the abstract in full: “This paper looks at the case of transgender Britons who tried to correct the gender listed on their government-issued ID cards, but ran up against the British government’s increasingly computerized methods for tracking, identifying, and defining citizens. These newly computerizing systems show some of the earliest examples of transphobic algorithmic bias: explicit attempts to program trans people out of the system can be seen in the programming of the early Ministry of Pensions computer system designed to apportion benefits to all tax paying British citizens. Transgender citizens pushed back against these developments, attempting to hack the bureaucratic avenues and categories available to them, laying the groundwork for a coalescing political movement. This paper argues that uncovering the deep prehistory of algorithmic bias and investigating instances of resistance within this history is essential to understanding current debates about algorithmic bias, and how computerized systems have long functioned to create and enforce norms and hierarchies.”
Bonus long quote: “Yet, computing in the service of powerful interests, be they state or corporate, tends to inculcate stereotypes and static identities appro- priate to reifying and perpetuating forms of exist- ing power. The purpose of these systems is to discipline information in the service of a particu- lar goal. In order to increase their own efficiency and power, such systems must stylize reality and translate it into an informational landscape where it can be acted upon in a seemingly frictionless, disinterested, and unbiased way. In point of fact, however, this process of rendering information computable relies on institutionalizing the views and biases of those constructing the system, and reflexively serves their ends.”
Also worth a look are Hicks’ earlier book, Programmed Inequality, and her most recent book, Your Computer Is on Fire; both investigate the bias and inequality inherent in technological systems.
- I Hate Roguelikes, And So Should You!
by R. Hunter Gough
I was uncertain what a “rogue-like” game was. So I dug a little. Turns out that reading a rant is a good way to assay the core elements of a thing.
Quote: “As a roguelike moves from the left to the right on the above chart, and permadeath gives way to more and more granular saving, you have more opportunity to scrutinize the rampant randomness that’s core to the roguelike experience, and the veil lifts, and you realize that that randomness needs the permadeath to survive. Without the permadeath, players can just savescum to one degree or another (even if save points are few and far between, you can still savescum to an extent) and game the randomness to what they want rather than fighting against it and mistaking random chance for legitimate challenge.”
- Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
by Samin Nosrat
For perhaps the first time ever, I browsed Netflix’s documentaries and binge watched a whole series in one sitting. Admittedly, the series is four episodes long–one episode for salt, fat, acid and heat, respectively–but it was still an unusual thing for me.
I’d heard about the book via Tim Ferriss some years back, and I’d seen the documentary in the listings many times. I’m glad I got around to it. Like the best non-fiction media, it has immediately yielded some things to think about and action on a near-daily basis.
The Magnificent Seven #46: From My to Me – 06/06/21
- From My to Me
by Olia Lialina
Long quote: “This is not a story about young people,53 it is the destiny of computer users of all generations. Adapting, forgetting, delegating.
So often we hear and say that things change very fast. I don’t know what is fast or what is slow, but what is clear to me is that the adaption of computer users’ mindsets keeps up with this pace. First you stop making links, then you stop following ones made by others, then you ask, “what’s a link?” Like a girl in the Apple commercial asks “What’s a computer?”54, a question that is supposed to portray the ultimate quality (transparency as invisibility) of a consumer electronic product.
Computer users accepted that making links is not their business. Instagram’s one and only link in bio is not a question of the amount of links but the fact that the decision to make hypertext is not a prerogative of the users.
“Free speech in hypertext implies the ‘right to link’, which is the very basic building unit for the whole Web”55 writes Tim Berners-Lee in 2000. He adds, “if the general right to link is not upheld for any reason, then fundamental principles of free speech are at stake, and something had better be changed.”56
Links were indeed perceived so “basic” and “fundamental” that no contributor to user rights platform thought about adding a demand to link in 2013 or later. I noticed this while finishing this text and tried to improve the situation by placing my demand.57 But one thing that has long existed is the unwillingness of corporations to make external links and the rise of walled gardens, where hypertext is only inside,58 and links are made between documents not servers. And another is service providers taking away the technical possibility of turning text into hypertext, media into hypermedia, even inside one platform.”
Short quote: “I think that leaving the platforms and meeting somewhere else is not enough, or not even the biggest deal. The challenge is to get away from Me, from the idea that you are the centre of your online presence. Don’t take this imposed, artificial role into the new environments. It will poison and corrupt the best of initiatives.”
I also read another older piece by the same author: Turing Complete User.
- How Maxwell’s Demon Continues to Startle Scientists
by Jonathan O’Callaghan
In which I learned that the line between bits and atoms is blurry; energy can be extracted from information.
Quote: “The second vital piece of the puzzle was the principle of erasure. In 1961, the German American physicist Rolf Landauer showed that any logically irreversible computation, such as the erasing of information from a memory, would result in a minimal nonzero amount of work converted into heat dumped into the environment, and a corresponding rise in entropy. Landauer’s erasure principle provided a tantalizing link between information and thermodynamics. “Information is physical,” he later proclaimed.”
- The Maginot Problem
by Taylor Pearson
Quote: “The Maginot Line Problem has at least two aspects.
One is that lessons tend to be learned in much too specific a way and not generally enough. The correct lesson from the First World War was that the French should be prepared for German aggression, but the French didn’t prepare broadly, they just built a huge concrete wall exactly where the Germans had tried to cross last time – basically playing the world’s most expensive and tragic game of whack-a-mole ever.
Secondly, the Maginot Line, designed to very effectively fight the last war, had delivered a false sense of security. It was not just problematic that the French built the wrong defensive barrier, it was that they were so sure they had built the right one, lulling them into a fall sense of complacency.
As my dad frequently liked to remind me growing up: “It ain’t what you don’t know that hurts you, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.””
- If you believe in nihilism, do you believe in anything?
by Nolan Gertz
Quote: “If we reflect on any specific idea long enough, no matter how strong it seems at first, or how widely accepted, we’ll start to doubt its truth. We might also begin to doubt whether those who accept the idea really know (or care) about whether or not the idea is true. This is one step away from thinking about why there is so little consensus about so many issues, and why everyone else seems to be so certain about what now appears to you so uncertain. At this point, on the brink of nihilism, there’s a choice: either keep thinking and risk alienating yourself from society; or stop thinking and risk alienating yourself from reality.”
- What you believe about movement could make it better for you
by Michelle McGinnis
Quote: “What if you looked at all of your possible and actual movements in a given day as having potential health benefits? I include possible movements because humans are inclined to choose convenience over movement. My movement teacher, internationally renowned biomechanist Katy Bowman, sees convenience as the problem. Start replacing the word, “convenient” with “takes less movement,” and you will find that’s how it translates most of the time.
If something is convenient, it means you made less physical movement. If it’s convenient to park close to your destination, it takes less movement. If its convenient to blow your leaves or snow rather than rake or shovel them, it means it you moved less or less of you moved. Even really small things, like the convenience of having your wife or husband hand or bring you something, means you didn’t move much. And less movement is not what most of us need.”
- Patel, Mirza and the Middlemen
by The Good Law Project
Last week, British politics turned into an episode of Eastenders.
A former special adviser went on record concerning private conversations and the inner workings during the UK government’s pandemic response, and confirmed what has been known for a long time: more than a hundred thousand people died unnecessarily.
Said testimony kicked off a tonne of backbiting and he-said-she-said, and the very next day resulted in a glorified Tory-circle-jerk which saw Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock congratulated for “his remarkable achievements”.
To confirm, those “achievements” include sending Covid-positive patients into care homes, overseeing a multi-billion pound test and trace system which didn’t work, and ensuring that the right snouts got their chance to gorge on the public funds available via the PPE procurement effort.
The rot doesn’t just touch Hancock; it pervades the entire apparatus of British Government. For example, in the linked article, a Tory-friendly contract is approved and expedited with the help of ministers, despite there being a cheaper alternative and despite being double the cost per unit of PPE. The result was a multi-million pound windfall for someone with the right connections. This is only one of tens, hundreds of such examples.
I know that it’s more than the individuals. The entire system is rotten, an example of institutionalised corruption, privilege and cruelty, where the upside is hoarded by private interests and the downside is multiplied and left to the rest as a publicly-borne burden. But that doesn’t exonerate the individuals involved. They bear responsibility.
Unfortunately, the only thing less tangible than the competence of the current British government is the ability to hold those responsible for willingly causing needless death and destruction to account.
There are pockets of resistance, of course. These are tough, determined, fighting the good fight. But they remain small drops in an ocean of depravity. Compare the continued demonisation of the EU with the attempts to cosy up to the vicious Hungarian authoritarian Orban and it’s easy to see the path “Global Britain” is on. It is a path that will yield boons for the few and tragedies for the many.
- Zelda and Chill
by Mikel / GameChops
I haven’t actually played any Zelda games (shame on me!), but I have listened to some soundtracks here and there; mostly accidentally, like when there’s been a track in a playlist or my partner is playing Breath of the Wild. In the latter case, the track is interspersed with mild curses and exclamations–especially during boss fights. So when I came across Zelda and Chill (and Zelda and Chill 2) I threw it in. It’s good stuff, especially on a Friday afternoon.
The Magnificent Seven #45: The Blank Slate Fantasy – 30/05/21
- The Blank Slate Fantasy
by Date Oputu
This article reminded me of Gall’s Law: “A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system.”
Quote from the article: “In his work on political settlements, political scientist, Mushtaq Khan, argues that when a state’s political institutions do not match the underlying balance of powers, powerful actors will modify the institutions—through legal or extralegal means—to reflect their interests. The obvious implication is that institutions cannot be transplanted from one local context to another. A written rule saying ‘courts are stronger than governors’ will be ineffective in a context where governors have greater social and financial capital than judges. Rules guaranteeing freedom of religion are equally meaningless if the vast majority consider discrimination against a particular minority to be appropriate.
Changing political context requires a change in power, which can be achieved in ways ranging from gradual shifts in public opinion to protests or even political violence. Just as purpose-built cities promise to bypass the hard, unglamorous work of urban maintenance, efforts to borrow institutions attempt to avoid the tedious and often volatile work of real political change. Both promises should be viewed with scepticism.”
- Fundamental Theory of Physics, Life, and the Universe
by Stephen Wolfram / Lex Fridman
I know that last week I predicted I wouldn’t get into anymore podcasts. Well, I was wrong. I ended up listening to this marathon conversation and it was truly mind-expanding. Hypergraphs; computational irreducibility; causal invariance; metamathematics. There was a lot to take in and, surprisingly, most of it was comprehensible–that’s in part due to Fridman and in part due to the time Wolfram has devoted to trying to distill these ideas down into an accessible essence.
- Trajectories for the future of software
by John Ohno
Every once in a while, I come across a truly “sticky” idea. The notion of big vs small computing is one such idea. In fact, I read the linked articles several weeks back, yet I’m still trying to tease out how the distinction impacts me. Because it definitely has. And does.
Quote: “The division between non-programmers and novice programmers is not a natural part of the learning curve, but is actually enforced by our tooling, which has steadily moved toward segregating users into “technical” and “non-technical”. The personal computer of the 80s, happily used by exceedingly non-technical people, which expected users to be able to type in a line or two of code from a manual in order to do much of anything, has been replaced by the modern PC, where getting the tools necessary to write any code at all involves seeking out somewhat-dubious-looking third-party websites. Beginning with certain management decisions made on the Macintosh project in 1982, the UI philosophy moved from “the simple should be easy and the difficult should be possible” to “anything not featured in the television advertisement should be impossible”. As such, intermediate states between non-programmer and novice (such as “power user”) are nearly extinct.
There is no fundamental technical barrier that keeps us from having “graphical user interfaces” that have the same kind of flexibility and composability as the unix command line. There is merely a social barrier: non-technical users are expected to obtain software produced for profit by corporations, each living in a walled garden, and they are expected to have no curiosity at all about how to change how these pieces of software work, while technical users are expected to run technical-user-oriented operating systems that are visually unpolished and to prefer text-based interfaces.”
- Theoria and Philosophy as a Way of Life
by Adam Robbert
Quote: “To be sure, Hadot’s interest in the history of language did not exhaust his sense of what philosophy is at its core, and I’ll make the case in this essay that Hadot’s intellectual erudition is not at odds with his criticisms of the modern academy. But as a point of fact, it was in part the limitations imposed by these methods that led him to re-invoke the importance of philosophy as a way of life, that is, of philosophy practiced as a whole way of being in the world, in a set of concrete historical conditions. And yet, this training has clearly served Hadot well. We should therefore ask, what is the relation between the need for an intellectual training program—as manifest in the university system, but perhaps also beyond it—and those aspects of philosophy as a way of life that Hadot found so lacking in the institutions of today. One way to approach this question is from the perspective of philosophical exercise, or askēsis, a discussion I picked up with Gregory Sadler a few weeks ago. These exercises are many, too many to track in this short essay, but reviewing a few of them will help shed light on the current situation in academic philosophy. Among these exercises Hadot lists several that are well-suited for university settings. These include research, investigation, reading, and listening. Many other practices, such as fasting, physical training, liturgy, meditations on death, therapy, contemplative practice, and mystical experience, are less common, and yet are equally central to philosophy.”
I also ended up reading another piece about Buddhist modernism.
- Interview: GRIHA India w/ D.C. Wahl
An interview with Daniel Christian Wahl, author of Designing Regenerative Cultures. A short quote (which is actually from someone DCW cites): “Creating your future without knowing your history is like planting cut flowers.”
Long quote: “In many ways, regenerative cultures isn’t something new — regenerative cultures is remembering the inheritance of our species’ long history. For 200,000 years, we have been bio-regionally adapted cultures that tried to manage or work with the ecosystems they inhabit. The relationship we have now with land — that we own the land, is not an indigenous relationship. The indigenous relationship is the other way around. We are expressions of the land. The land owns us, and I think humanity will not have a viable future if we don’t come back to those insights.”
- Why Humans Were Born to Ruck
by Michael Easter
Quote: “A famous 2004 study in the prestigious scientific journal Nature created the idea that humans are “Born to Run,” which led to the barefoot running craze (the scientists are quick to point out that they don’t advocate for barefoot running—they just study it). The movement was filled with people shunning cushiony shoes, thinking that running barefoot or in minimalist shoes would tap into some evolutionary miracle that would help them run faster and without injury.
But the movement missed something major: As we evolved, running was relatively rare. It was reserved mostly for hunts. Modern day tribes like the Tarahumara, for example, never run for the fun of it. Running is reserved for rare hunts and religious ceremonies, the Harvard anthropologists (who’d embedded themselves with the Tarahumara) explained.
Carrying, on the other hand, is something us humans did all the time as we evolved. So all the evidence suggests that we were more so “born to carry.””
- What is a fact about the human body that not many know about?
Some, uh, interesting answers here. A selection minus the spoilers… Life after death; misrepresenting suffocation; swallowing wrong; toe nail regeneration; stripey humans.
I also ended up reading a few answers to the question, “What’s the dumbest rule your school ever enforced?“
The Magnificent Seven #44: The Bone Garden of Desire – 23/05/21
- The Bone Garden of Desire
by Charles Bowden
Quote: “As I sit here, Chris is to the south, Art is to the west, Paul is back east, and Dick is in the backyard by the fierce green flesh of the cactus. These things I know. The answers I don’t know, nor am I interested. That is why food is important and plants are important. Because they are not words and the answers people offer me are just things they fashion out of words. A simple veal ragú is scent and texture and color and soft on the tongue. It is important to cut onions by hand. The power of the flower at night is frightening, the lust floods the air and destroys all hope of virtue.
There will be more blooms this spring–the cactus grew at least ten feet last year. They will open around nine in the evening and then close at the first gray light of dawn. I’ll sit out there with a glass of red wine and the lights out.
When I tell people about the blooms, about how they open around nine and close before sunrise and do this just for one night, they always ask, Is that all?
Yes. That’s all.”
- Bizarre and Wonderful: Murray Bookchin, Eco-Anarchist
by Wes Enzinna
Quote: “Bookchin also explored humanity’s 5000-year “legacy of freedom” in “Ecology of Freedom.” In the late 20th century, advances in science and engineering had for the first time made material scarcity a political rather than a natural problem. By combining a social-ecological revolutionary movement with such technological innovations as solar power and cybernetics, it seemed that humans might finally liberate themselves from the brutal demands of existence, which had shackled the utopian ambitions of Marx and his followers, causing them to idealise labour as much as any capitalist ever had. “When cybernated and automatic machinery can reduce toil to the near vanishing point,” he wrote in Post-Scarcity Anarchism, “nothing is more meaningless to young people than a lifetime of toil. When modern industry can provide abundance for all, nothing is more vicious to poor people than a lifetime of poverty. When all the resources exist to promote social equality, nothing is more criminal to ethnic minorities, women and homosexuals than subjugation.””
- In the Beginning was the Command Line
by Neal Stephenson
In the process of learning a thing–in this instance, computing–it’s also sensible to learn the stories around the thing. This twenty-odd year old saunter through computer operating systems has helped me do just that.
Quote: “Unix is the only OS remaining whose GUI (a vast suite of code called the X Windows System) is separate from the OS in the old sense of the phrase. This is to say that you can run Unix in pure command-line mode if you want to, with no windows, icons, mouses, etc. whatsoever, and it will still be Unix and capable of doing everything Unix is supposed to do. But the other OSes: MacOS, the Windows family, and BeOS, have their GUIs tangled up with the old-fashioned OS functions to the extent that they have to run in GUI mode, or else they are not really running. So it’s no longer really possible to think of GUIs as being distinct from the OS; they’re now an inextricable part of the OSes that they belong to–and they are by far the largest part, and by far the most expensive and difficult part to create.”
- Rocket Engines and Electric Spacecraft Propulsion
by Natalya Bailey / Lex Fridman
I’ve neglected podcasts for a little while–and I will likely continue to do so–but I did end up starting and becoming utterly immersed in this episode. I mean, it’s pretty neat to hear the fundamentals of propulsion explored and explained in real-time by someone at the heart of the field.
When it comes to movement, I know I’m pretty light on the rhythm and coordination front. So I ended up looking into Filipino martial arts, or Arnis. Two things stuck out.
The live hand: “The live hand is the opposite hand of the practitioner that does not contain the main weapon. The heavy usage of the live hand is an important concept and distinguishing hallmark of eskrima. Even (or especially) when empty, the live hand can be used as a companion weapon by eskrima practitioners. As opposed to most weapon systems like fencing where the off-hand is hidden and not used to prevent it from being hit, eskrima actively uses the live hand for trapping, locking, supporting weapon blocks, checking, disarming, striking and controlling the opponent.”
The use of triangular positioning: “To control the range, and for numerous other purposes, good footwork is essential. Most eskrima systems explain their footwork in terms of triangles: normally when moving in any direction two feet occupy two corners of the triangle and the step is to the third corner such that no leg crosses the other at any time. The shape and size of the triangle must be adapted to the particular situation.
From here, I ended up looking at martial arts footwork in general, as well as Tai sabaki. The latter is prevalent in jiu-jitsu (it is the gentle art, after all) and involves using an opponent’s weight, momentum and intent against themselves.
- Love, Offshores and Administrative Resources
by Roman Anin, Denis Dmitriev, Olesya Shmagun, Roman Shleynov, Dmitry Velikovski, Sonya Savina, Irina Dolinina, Alesya Marokhovskaya
Quote: “Judging by his emails, Shamalov already owned a network of offshore companies by the time he was married. Most of these firms, run by lawyers from various countries, were registered to proxy owners. The main custodian of Shamalov’s offshore secrets was Dario Item, the ambassador of the small Caribbean state of Antigua and Barbuda to Spain, Monaco, and Liechtenstein.
In June 2013, Shamalov’s offshore company in Belize, Kylsyth Investments Limited, acquired 38,000 shares of a Guernsey-based offshore, Themis Holdings Limited, from yet another offshore called Volyn Portfolio Corp, this one based in the British Virgin Islands.
At that time, Themis Holdings was Sibur’s parent company. In other words, by acquiring the Themis shares, Shamalov had acquired 3.8 percent of Russia’s largest petrochemical company.
He did so for the astonishing price of $100. Shamalov later estimated Sibur’s value at the time to be $10 billion, which means his share would be worth $380 million. He had acquired fantastic wealth for nearly nothing.”
- John Swartzwelder, Sage of “The Simpsons”
by Mike Sacks
Okay, this interview is fantastic–especially for someone like me who counts “writing” as a core activity. A couple lengthy quotes (because I can)…
One: “You talk as if you sought out a lazy career, and yet your reputation is of being one of the most productive comedy writers in television history. Was it not so much about an easy career as being in charge of your own destiny?
You’ve put your finger on it. The biggest appeal of writing is that, theoretically, you can do it anywhere. I pictured myself surfing in Australia while working out the plot of my next blockbuster comedy novel, or mailing in my latest joke from the top of a mountain. That’s how it looked to me when I started. In real life, however, most of the time you have to drag yourself into an office and chain yourself to a desk.”
Two: “Perelman was great. Benchley actually wrote the same kind of crazy stuff that Perelman did, and he did it just as well, if not better, but he was much more casual about it. Perelman crammed every joke he could think of into every sentence and polished his pieces relentlessly until they couldn’t get any crazier. There’s a story that a friend called him up while he was writing something, and Perelman said, “I’ll call you back when I finish this sentence.” He called back the next day and said, “O.K., what do you want?” “
Three: “All of my time and all of my attention. It’s the only way I know how to write, darn it. But I do have a trick that makes things easier for me. Since writing is very hard and rewriting is comparatively easy and rather fun, I always write my scripts all the way through as fast as I can, the first day, if possible, putting in crap jokes and pattern dialogue—“Homer, I don’t want you to do that.” “Then I won’t do it.” Then the next day, when I get up, the script’s been written. It’s lousy, but it’s a script. The hard part is done. It’s like a crappy little elf has snuck into my office and badly done all my work for me, and then left with a tip of his crappy hat. All I have to do from that point on is fix it. So I’ve taken a very hard job, writing, and turned it into an easy one, rewriting, overnight. I advise all writers to do their scripts and other writing this way. And be sure to send me a small royalty every time you do it.”
Four: “Why did you decide to take the self-publishing route, rather than traditional publishing?
It’s easier, faster, and there are no arguments, because all the decisions are yours. If you want to write your book with multiple misspellings, badly misplaced commas, and juvenile bodily-function jokes, your publisher (that’s you!) is with you a hundred per cent on that. He’ll back you up all the way. It’s the kind of control writers dream of having. Of course, a traditional publisher can arrange book tours for you, which I don’t want to go on anyway, and get your book displayed prominently in bookstores, which don’t exist anymore, and, theoretically, at least, make you more money, which I hate, but those, I think, are sacrifices worth making to have that control.
Now, to be completely honest and truthful with your readers, I have to admit that I did initially try to go the traditional book-publishing route, but after I had drummed my fingers for almost a month waiting for a reply to my query letter, I lost patience and just published it myself. And once I got started, I was hooked.”
The Magnificent Seven #43: The Other Tyrants – 16/05/21
- The Other Tyrants
by Andrew Stroehlein
An article that highlights out-of-sight-and-mind authoritarian regimes–Turkmenistan, Eritrea, Rwanda, Cambodia and Qatar–and their tyrannical leaders.
Quote: “Humanity may always suffer from an attraction to political strongmen. Some people believe that making leaders stronger—concentrating more power in their hands—is the way to “get things done.” But the wished-for efficiency of authoritarians is a myth. Benito Mussolini most certainly did not “make the trains run on time,” as is repeatedly claimed.
What actually “gets done” in authoritarian systems is the crushing of individual freedoms, and the wrecking of countless lives. The more cases from around the globe that we study, the better we may avoid taking that road.”
Also worth a look is Stroehlein’s The Other Navalnys–sketches of lesser known dissidents from around the world.
- Bioregionalism – Living with a Sense of Place at the Appropriate Scale for Self-Reliance
by Daniel Christian Wahl
I scored, uh, not very much on the included quiz… Quote: “Bioregional consciousness, the awareness of the dynamical processes of nature in our local environment can contribute to a dissolving of the self-world split, which still lies at the core of the dominant worldview. Bioregional knowledge connects us to our community and its locale. What keeps people in the industrial growth society from developing that intimate way of knowing a place is a lack of healthy, locally embedded communities. The split between academic and traditional knowledge and increased specialization and mobility have isolated most people from their native community.
This led to a situation in which most people, particular in the industrialized North may be experts in their fields of interest, but know little to nothing about the place and the region they inhabit. To prove, or disprove my point I have reproduced the bioregional quiz, designed by Leonard Charles et al. in the following table (see table 2). It will allow you to quickly establish to what degree you, personally, are familiar with your own local bioregion.”
- Getting Out of Flatland
by Renaud Gervais
Quote: “In this thesis, we are interested in two main aspects related to these tangible augmented objects. In a first time, we are raising the question on how to interact with digital content when it is hosted on physical objects. As a basis for our investigation, we studied interaction modalities that leverage traditional input and output devices found in a typical desktop environment. Our rationale for this approach is to leverage the experience of users with traditional digital tools – tools which researchers and developers spent decades to make simpler and more efficient to use – while at the same time steering towards a physically enriched interaction space. In a second time, we go beyond the interaction with the digital content of augmented objects and reflect on their potential as a humane medium support. We investigate how these augmented artifacts, combined with physiological computing, can be used to raise our awareness of the processes of our own bodies and minds and, eventually, foster introspection activities. This took the form of two different projects where we used tangible avatars to let users explore and customize real-time physiological feedback of their own inner states.”
- What’s going on here, with this human?
by Graham Duncan
Quote: “It can be useful, when interviewing someone, to take Rumelt’s cue and ask explicitly: what’s going on here with this person in front of me? The more I’ve done it, the more I realize that what most people think of as the hard parts of hiring—asking just the right question that catches the candidate off guard, defining the role correctly, assessing the person’s skills—are less important than a more basic task: how do you see someone, including yourself, clearly?
Seeing people clearly—or at least more clearly—matters not just when finding the “best” hire, but in identifying the best role for them. Even looking at those of us who are lucky enough to have a high degree of choice about what we do with our work, I’ll bet that as few as 20% of us are in the seat that best optimizes our talents and skills at any given time—the seat that makes us feel at home in the world. That’s not good for the 80%, and it’s not good for their teams either.”
- Soul Seat
by Ikaria Design Company
These are cool, but I don’t see myself splashing out for one at any time in the near-future. Or the far-future really. As a compromise, I’ve whipped the back off of my current Ikea desk chair and I’m enjoying switching between different sitting positions.
If I didn’t have a stand-up desk and a generous working area (a whole room) though, I would consider one of these more seriously. My aim is to build up a habit of switching between standing whilst working and working from the floor. Absent the space for such optionality, one of these chairs is a great workaround–it turns a desk chair into a de facto floor.
- No, it’s the not The Incentives–it’s you
by Tal Yarkoni
A compilation of reasons that explore why blaming “The Incentives” is not a good idea.
Quote: “This last one seems so obvious it should go without saying, but it does need saying, so I’ll say it: a good reason why you should avoid hanging bad behavior on The Incentives is that you’re a scientist, and trying to get closer to the truth, and not just to tenure, is in your fucking job description. Taxpayers don’t fund you because they care about your career; they fund you to learn shit, cure shit, and build shit. If you can’t do your job without having to regularly excuse sloppiness on the grounds that you have no incentive to be less sloppy, at least have the decency not to say that out loud in a crowded room or Twitter feed full of people who indirectly pay your salary. Complaining that you would surely do the right thing if only these terrible Incentives didn’t exist doesn’t make you the noble martyr you think it does; to almost anybody outside your field who has a modicum of integrity, it just makes you sound like you’re looking for an easy out. It’s not sophisticated or worldly or politically astute, it’s just dishonest and lazy. If you find yourself unable to do your job without regularly engaging in practices that clearly devalue the very science you claim to care about, and this doesn’t bother you deeply, then maybe the problem is not actually The Incentives—or at least, not The Incentives alone. Maybe the problem is You.”
- ‘Mortal Kombat’: Untold Story of the Movie That “Kicked the Hell” Out of Everyone
by Aaron Couch
Quote: “The soundtrack was the first platinum EDM record ever in history. We insisted on using electronic dance music, which at the time was insane. We got kicked out of two record companies. We had a deal at Sony for a lot of money. In those days you could get a lot of money for a soundtrack — no longer. We walk in and say, here’s our idea. Electronic dance music. And they go, “No, here’s our idea. Buckethead!” He was a guy who played music with a bucket on his head. We were like, “Well, he’s a good guitar player …” they wanted Buckethead to duel Eddie Van Halen or something. And we said, “electronic dance music,” and they kicked us out. Then we go to Virgin Records. We walk in and say, “Great idea: electronic dance music.” And they say, “Yeah, how about Janet Jackson?” By the way, I love Janet Jackson, but we were like, “What? For Mortal Kombat? We get kicked out. Finally we get no record deal. The studio was great by backing us and letting us do that. We made the MKsoundtrack and gave it to this little record company no one had ever heard of and we came out with the first EDM platinum soundtrack.”
The Magnificent Seven #42: I, holobiont – 09/05/21
- I, holobiont
by Derek J. Skillings
Quote: “For a time, the ecological account prevailed. But Margulis’s physiological conception of holobionts was revitalised in the late 2000s as part of a new theory: what’s known as the hologenome theory of evolution. Advocates merged both versions of holobiont into something a bit more conceptually loaded. On this view, the ecological notion of holobiont (the host and all its resident microbes) is given additional properties. It’s an entity that’s coherent enough to have its own hologenome, made up of the host genome plus all the microbial genomes. A major implication of this theory is that natural selection doesn’t just act on the genome of individual organisms: it acts on the hologenome of holobionts, which are seen as single units that can evolve at the level of the holobiont.
Today, researchers engage in fierce debate over which forces shape holobionts and host-microbiome systems. They can be roughly split into two factions, the ecological and the evolutionary. On the ecological side, holobionts are seen as complex and dynamic ecosystems, in constant flux shaped by individual interactions from the bottom up. So youare part of a holobiont. But this stands in opposition to the evolutionary account, which casts holobionts as higher-level entities akin to organisms or units of selection, and believes that they are shaped as a whole from the top down. On this view, you are a holobiont.”
- The Sullivan Model
by Elise Labott:
Quote: “In his time at the State Department, Sullivan was honing a few of the skills that would later presumably serve him well as national security advisor. Since Clinton traveled so much, her aides often had to rely on Sullivan—who typically flew with her—to make their case on any given policy. Sullivan never played gatekeeper, recalled Clinton’s former communications director Philippe Reines, but rather was an honest broker—an invaluable attribute for a future national security advisor whose traditional role is to solicit a wide range of ideas and present a slate of options to the president.
“It’s very easy to resent a national security advisor, if you don’t think that they are relaying your position,” Reines said. “What’s remarkable about Jake is not only can you count on him to relay your position, but he always does it better than you will.”
Clinton agreed. “He doesn’t betray his own preferences,” she said of Sullivan. “He is at the table to make sure that he can help create the highest-quality decision-making” “
- Anatomy of an AI System
by Kate Crawford, Vladan Joler
This is a remarkable exercise in mapping and relating the layers upon layers of abstraction many of us rely on. Short quote: “At every level contemporary technology is deeply rooted in and running on the exploitation of human bodies.”
Long quote: “In his book A Geology of Media, Jussi Parikka suggests that we try to think of media not from Marshall McLuhan’s point of view – in which media are extensions of human senses 12 – but rather as an extension of Earth. 13 Media technologies should be understood in context of a geological process, from the creation and the transformation processes, to the movement of natural elements from which media are built. Reflecting upon media and technology as geological processes enables us to consider the profound depletion of non-renewable resources required to drive the technologies of the present moment. Each object in the extended network of an AI system, from network routers to batteries to microphones, is built using elements that required billions of years to be produced. Looking from the perspective of deep time, we are extracting Earth’s history to serve a split second of technological time, in order to build devices than are often designed to be used for no more than a few years. For example, the Consumer Technology Association notes that the average smartphone lifespan is 4.7 years. 14 This obsolescence cycle fuels the purchase of more devices, drives up profits, and increases incentives for the use of unsustainable extraction practices. From a slow process of elemental development, these elements and materials go through an extraordinarily rapid period of excavation, smelting, mixing, and logistical transport – crossing thousands of kilometers in their transformation. Geological processes mark both the beginning and the end of this period, from the mining of ore, to the deposition of material in an electronic waste dump. For that reason, our map starts and ends with the Earth’s crust. However, all the transformations and movements we depict are only the barest anatomical outline: beneath these connections lie many more layers of fractal supply chains, and exploitation of human and natural resources, concentrations of corporate and geopolitical power, and continual energy consumption.”
- Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Fight to Be Visionary
by Chris O’Falt
A friend put me onto Jóhannsson, and boy am I grateful. Quote from an interview with man himself: “I always relish the idea of collaborating with the director on creating the sound world, the sound spectrum, and the sound environment of the film. I use every means at my disposal to create a score that is as strong and powerful to enhance the director’s vision for the film. I think getting involved early and starting the dialogue is important because then it gives me time to absorb the ideas inherent in the film to do research to find musicians I want to work with and spend time collecting sounds, recording sounds and textures that may become elements of the score and starting the demo process early.”
- From Pre-Tragic to Post-Tragic
by Marc Gafni
Quote: “Most people live their lives at either level one or level two of consciousness, what we have here termed the pre-tragic or the tragic. Some people move from level one to level two as a result of lost trust in life, usually occasioned by a personal tragedy. Others move from pre-tragic to tragic because they are witness to the virtually unbearable suffering in the world. The laws and principles they had used to makes sense of the world seem no longer sensible. Some individuals, after shifting to tragic consciousness, revert back to pre-tragic. This is either because they find some new, comforting explanation for their suffering (based on a superficial reworking of their old beliefs), or because they simply forget their experience of tragedy and fall back into their prior pre-tragic state.
But there is a third level that is available at the leading edge of consciousness. We call this level “post-tragic.” Here, the person or culture is able to once again participate in the elemental joy of living. This happens when the individual (or culture) is able to re-connect to the core Eros and aliveness of reality.”
- Wandering Weights
by Dan John
As a result of signing up for a trial of Dan’s workout generator–no regrets yet–I also receive Dan’s Wandering Weights newsletter. It’s a weekly digest of health, fitness and nutrition related ideas and articles, and it’s good. I’d subscribed previously, over a year ago, and unsubscribed after purging my inbox of all newsletters. But I’m glad to be receiving it once more.
- Sculpt the World
by Jon Foreman
I watched both the films on the linked site, and looked through some of the land art collections. The sand pieces, in particular, blew me away. The stone pieces were also beautiful.
Quote: “A creator of various styles of Land Art, he is ever in search of “different.” Be it with stones or leaves, inland or on beaches. He has even created works in derelict environments using materials such as broken glass or ashes and general debris. The scale of his work varies massively; he may use stones or driftwood to make something small and minimal. Otherwise he may be seen drawing massive scale sand drawings up to 50 metres across. His work is ephemeral in many differing ways; Most often the weather and immediate climate will make his work disappear (be blown down/washed away by the tide), and sometimes other people will interfere. This is all part of the creative process and has proven to benefit his work.”
The Magnificent Seven #41: The Botanist Who Defied Stalin – 02/05/21
- The Botanist Who Defied Stalin
by Lee Alan Dugatkin
Quote: “This was no idle threat. Lysenko’s powerbase was well known: “The whole country knows of the debate taking place between Vavilov and Lysenko,” one his cronies stood up and announced at a meeting. “Vavilov will have to change his ways, because Stalin said that things must not work the way Vavilov says but as Lysenko says.” Within a few years, working with Stalin and others, Lysenko was well on the way to purging Mendelian geneticists from the ranks of Soviet science, having them fired or thrown into prison if they did not swear allegiance to Lysenko’s views. He had also, for all intents and purposes, removed all mention of Mendelian genetics from biology textbooks at every level from grade school on through university.”
- The Repressive Politics of Emotional Intelligence
by Merve Emre
Quote: “Emotional labor, estranging workers from their inner feelings, refashions the ostensibly private realm of the self as an extension of social and corporate interests. These incursions raise the question of how much any emotion originates from and belongs solely to the individual. Are people’s natural capacities for empathy and warmth co-opted by the impersonal structures of the market? Or do people reproduce exactly the smiles and lines that are given to them by advertising, training programs, and hospitality scripts? Only one thing seems certain: the more we experience emotional labor as a feigned display rather than as a true feeling, the greater our psychological angst. “When display is required by the job, it is usually feeling that has to change,” Hochschild writes. For the individual worker, there is every reason to believe in the script she recites. She wins nothing and risks everything by asserting her freedom from it.”
- Offense and Defense in Information Security
by Sina Kashefipour / Joe Slowik
A podcast about the disparity between attack and defence in information security. It revolves around the idea that “a defender has to be right all the time; an attacker only has to be right once.” As you can probably guess, in the real world such a blanket statement isn’t exactly true.
- The Beginner’s Guide to Deleuze
by Ken Baumann
In the midst of a Twitter exchange concerning “shitposting”, John Ohno mentioned Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. As a consequence, I’ve added D&G to my reading track and scouted out some introductions to the pair. The linked article is one of these.
Quote: “Here’s the trick: do not bother trying to comprehend or understand the text. A desire for that level of control will only hinder your ability to experience it, use it, think it, and become it. To apply an analogy, I do not need to understand or comprehend my car in order for me to experience driving, to use the car to get to the grocery store, to think about the fact that I am sitting motionless while simultaneously moving rapidly through time and space, to become an extension of the car or vice versa. (In this way, Deleuze has really helped me formulate my general approach to all works of literature: I do not care to comprehend them or understand them in any way. I wish instead to experience them and use them and become them.)”
- Kinds of writing
by Kwame Anthony Appiah
Quote: “There is a connection between my fiction reading and philosophy, which shows up through the presence of discussions of fiction in my philosophical writing. I find I learn a great deal about ethical life by thinking through the experiences of characters in the sort of densely realized worlds that novels imagine. Our philosophers’ examples are often very thin, schematic and sketchy; and that may be good for some purposes. But moral life is thick, dense, luxuriant. Philosophy that doesn’t recognize this can be of great theoretical interest: but it can’t do the thing that the heirs to Socrates, from Plato and Aristotle to the Roman Stoics, thought they were doing, which is helping you to live well. I’m not claiming that my mystery novels are much assistance there. But literary fiction—including mystery novels like the one I read last night, John Banville’s marvelous __Snow__—can be. I learned that at my mother’s knee.”
- Politics in the language of uncertainty part one, two and three
by Andy Sterling
Quote: “…it is by pretending things are more straightforward than they really are, that politics can ‘move forward’. By ‘keeping it simple’, incumbent institutions maintain the necessary fiction that they are ‘in control’ – or ‘taking back control’. Always a mantra favouring entrenched vested interests, this language grows ever more intense around the world.
In the big picture, the ‘corridors of power’ may actually control rather little. But even so, the privileges remain very real. And it is stories of control that form the main entry ticket to this world of privilege.
So the narrowness of the ‘pragmatism’ is clear. Asserting narratives of quantification, singularity and precision typically do little to aid control. But what such simple stories do help with is the handling of what a former British Prime Minster called ‘events, dear boy, events’. This is how privilege stays on top, in surfing the fundamentally uncontrollable intractabilities of incertitude.”
- The Way to a Human’s Brain Goes Through Their Stomach: Dietary Factors in Major Depressive Disorder
by Janine Aly, Olivia Engman
Worth reading just for the summary of “various hypotheses about the molecular cause of MDD”. Quoting the intro: “Globally, more than 250 million people are affected by depression (major depressive disorder; MDD), a serious and debilitating mental disorder. Currently available treatment options can have substantial side effects and take weeks to be fully effective. Therefore, it is important to find safe alternatives, which act more rapidly and in a larger number of patients. While much research on MDD focuses on chronic stress as a main risk factor, we here make a point of exploring dietary factors as a somewhat overlooked, yet highly promising approach towards novel antidepressant pathways. Deficiencies in various groups of nutrients often occur in patients with mental disorders. These include vitamins, especially members of the B-complex (B6, B9, B12). Moreover, an imbalance of fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6, or an insufficient supply with minerals, including magnesium and zinc, are related to MDD. While some of them are relevant for the synthesis of monoamines, others play a crucial role in inflammation, neuroprotection and the synthesis of growth factors. Evidence suggests that when deficiencies return to normal, changes in mood and behavior can be, at least in some cases, achieved. Furthermore, supplementation with dietary factors (so called “nutraceuticals”) may improve MDD symptoms even in the absence of a deficiency. Non-vital dietary factors may affect MDD symptoms as well. For instance, the most commonly consumed psychostimulant caffeine may improve behavioral and molecular markers of MDD. The molecular structure of most dietary factors is well known. Hence, dietary factors may provide important molecular tools to study and potentially help treat MDD symptoms.”
The Magnificent Seven #40: Suspended – 25/04/21
- 1983: Suspended
by Aaron A. Reed
Quote: “Both coding and playing the game required a different kind of thinking than anything that had come before. The player’s location, senses, and agency become fractured between six limited entities, causing what one fan dubbed “a thousand little mysteries” in piecing together a coherent picture of the environment from limited clues. Take identifying an object: one robot might grasp it in its manipulators and describe it as “a rough device,” while another sees only its electromagnetic emissions and calls it “a scanning device.” Whiz can determine it’s “a CX1 chip,” Iris can see that it’s blue, and the whimsical Poet calls it “brain uno.” Only by synthesizing all this information in the context of its environment can you come to understand it’s a scanning processor chip, useful to repair a malfunctioning robot.”
- The Site Reliability Engineering Workbook
I’m thinking more about the transition between more abstract computing theory–like the stuff I’m currently learning–and how modern products and platforms actually function. This SRE resource–and its predecessor–have quickly entered into the picture.
Quote: “Some say “software is eating the world,” and I understand why they do, but “software” alone is not the right framing. Without the ubiquity of computational hardware connected with high-speed networks, much of what we take for granted as “software” would not be possible. This is an undeniable truth. What I think many miss in this conversation about technology are the humans. Technology exists because of humans and hopefully for humans, but if you look a little deeper, you also realize that the software we rely on, and probably take for granted, is largely dependent on humans. We rely on software, but software also relies on us. This is a single interconnected system of imperfect hardware—software and humans relying on themselves to build the future. Reliability is eating the world. Reliability is not just about technology, though, but also about people. The people and the technology form a single technosocial system.”
- Elderblog Sutra: 12
by Venkatesh Rao
This meditation from Venkat picks up the theme of a text renaissance and swerves through some territory I’m keeping an eye on, mainly as I’m eyeing up a return to public blogging in the near future.
Quote: “I don’t think blogs ever went through a proper hype cycle. Though a lot of people talked a lot about it circa 2004-10 when the scene was taking shape, the hype was mostly in the talk, including on old media. The actual activity of blogging was painful enough that there was no general gold rush (and there wasn’t much gold anyway). So the scene matured slowly, with people periodically declaring it dead, until it finally seemed to sort of retire into an elder-medium around 2017, without actually dying. Maybe blogging is like a Lovecraftian elder god? The original, and most powerful threadthulhu?”
- New Pathogen, Old Politics
by Alex de Waal
Quote: “”Still, it is possible to steer a course between the Scylla of historical blindness and the Charybdis of hasty generalization. In her book about the era of the Black Death of 1348, A Distant Mirror (1978), the historian Barbara Tuchman confines her remarks on the present to a few oblique lines in the preface. “If one insists upon a lesson from history,” she writes, it is, as the French medievalist Edouard Perroy contended, that “Certain ways of behavior, certain reactions against fate, throw mutual light upon each other.” My working premise is that although the pathogen may be new, the logic of social response is not, and it is here that we can see historical continuities.”
- Scientists or Experts?
by Marco D’Eramo
Quote: “All the ‘unknowns’ cited above depend on data-collection processes which often prove fallible. After a year of Covid, even the simplest figures still elude us, and it’s probable we’ll never pin them down. This is in part due to the inveterate habit of governments to lie to themselves; the more autocratic they are, the more they can cherry-pick the most convenient facts. Studies using various indicators of despotism show a strong inverse correlation between authoritarianism in a given country and its tally of Covid victims. The firmer the regime, the fewer deaths it declares. Last November, the prominent Italian physicist Giorgio Parisi wrote that even in a relatively transparent country like Italy the official rate of transmission (Rt) is untrustworthy. Imagine, then, how trustworthy the political decisions based on it have been.”
- The heroes I met fighting Iran’s brutal prison system
by Kylie Morre-Gilbert
Quote: “I have seen acts of exceptional bravery, even foolhardiness, from fellow inmates like Sepideh Kashani. Regular, everyday people who have been forced to choose between selling out others to escape sometimes decades behind bars, and upholding their principles and calling out the injustices they have been subjected to, even at great personal cost.”
- Dan John University
After persisting with Pavel’s Simple and Sinister kettlebell program for a while now, I want to bring a bit more variety back into my training. Dan John is a coach I trust, so I’ve ended up trying out his workout generator. The generator includes some set programs, as well as the ability to program based on equipment, fitness level, and time required.
I’m gonna use only the generator for six weeks or so–because, as Dan says, “everything works, for about six weeks”–and then I’ll switch to a combination of the two. It’s also cycling season, so I’m aiming for a lazy, recuperative ride every week or so.
The Magnificent Seven #39: ‘Urgh’ Fields and ‘Argh’ Fields – 18/04/20
- ‘Urgh’ Fields and ‘Argh’ Fields
by Lisa McNulty
“Point is: the longer the distance between having the idea and implementing the idea, the more attached to the idea you may become, and the more aversive it may be to actually try it, in case it doesn’t work. The more research and double-checks and dry runs you will want to do before actually dipping your toe in the water. By contrast, when the thought occurred that I might create a similar online course based on philosophy and Doctor Who, I said that I could pretty much start whenever. It’s not an easier project, I’ve just had less time to worry about it.”
For the corollary, check out ‘urgh’ fields: “A key part of the Ugh Field phenomenon is that, to start with, there is no flinch, only negative real consequences resulting from real physical actions in the problem area. Then, gradually, you begin to feel the emotional hit when you are planning to take physical actions in the problem area. Then eventually, the emotional hit comes when you even begin to think about the problem.”
- McGill’s “Big Three”
by Stuart McGill
I try to remember that, when it comes to movement, building strength atop instability isn’t a good idea. I often forgot, though. Which means I train until I tweak something and then bring in some preventative exercises. This time, it’s Stuart McGill’s “big three” exercises–the curl up, side bridge and bird dog. McGill has chops–and I’m not just referring to his ‘stache. He’s the guy that fixes the backs of people no one else can.
- Issue 16: Reliability
“Increment is a print and digital magazine about how teams build and operate software systems at scale.” I read a few pieces from the latest issue–Trust is an enabling technology and Chaotic good. My favourite passage, though, comes from Everything is broken, and it’s okay.
Quote: “The way we control computers’ inputs and outputs has evolved radically over the past two centuries. When inventor Charles Babbage designed his Analytical Engine in the mid-1800s and mathematician Ada Lovelace programmed it, they were manipulating physical objects. Now, we work with digital objects like software and functions rather than punch cards and readers. This shift, from manually altering a machine’s structure to using layers of computer languages and abstraction, has changed our conception of how we work and what we imagine we can control.
None of the changes we’ve made through the decades have reduced the amount of work that happens in a system, though. From chip design to developer tools, we’re not saving any time or effort, just redistributing labor. Developers now routinely reuse and conceptually compress the work of others; we assume the work underlying our own—the electrical engineering, the manufacturing precision, the code we build on top of, the tools we use to make new tools—is a given and focus only on the tasks in our scope of influence.”
- Looking Closely is Everything
by Craig Mod
Quote: “On some morning in December 2020, a six-minute twenty-seven second video of a single cell turning into a full salamander made its rounds. I’ve thought about this video no fewer than five times a day since watching it the many, many times I’ve watched it. It is a video of both literal and figurative close looking. That we can peek over Nature’s shoulder and witness the 0-1 pop of a thing from a gooey dot to sneaky automaton is miraculous and bizarre. When does it “salamander?” The very definition of astonishing seems to be embedded in the way the cells move, as they grow from a “knowable” half-a-dozen dots to the millions and billions of the finished product. The phrase “sentience of the swarm” runs through my mind as I watch it. I am delighted and terrified: These little dots in aggregate know so much more than I ever will.”
- Boris Johnson’s Government Is Built on Cruelty
by Maya Goodfellow
I’d be hesitant to say that such cruelty is unique to the British government and its institutions. But how that innate cruelty and blind arrogance manifests itself always has a particularly British stink; one that wreaks of aristocratic disdain for the outgroup and utterly pragmatic indifference to its suffering.
Quote: “Mr. Johnson’s government has also refused to suspend “hostile environment” policies, a sprawling web of immigration controlsthrough which people without documentation are denied access to basic services like health care and housing. Not even a deadly pandemic can wean the government off the detention centers, deportation flights, bureaucratic cruelty and institutional racismthat make up Britain’s immigration system.”
- Moving the Big Boat Did Not Magically Fix the Global Economy
by Tim Maughan
As Maughan notes, the resolution of one crisis has merely postponed the onset of an ever larger one. Also, Maughan’s novel, Infinite Detail is good. Really good.
Quote: “Huge corporations like Amazon have learned from Trump and QAnon that they can just lie on social media about working conditions and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them — try as journalists and fact-checkers might to desperately debunk the lies. Tech companies employ academics and experts in A.I. to help guide them through the complex problems they’ve created, and then fire them when they say something they don’t want to hear. Media companies are sacking their staff allegedly because they unionized, or even sacking them just weeks after they managed to stop them from unionizing.
Meanwhile, celebrity journalists are abandoning traditional media outlets to get huge advances from other tech companies like Substack, in the process throwing their colleagues under the bus as they demonize them to pander to their legions of new, conservative subscribers. Everyone seems to be trying to pump cryptocurrencies as a way to make a quick buck, even though they know Bitcoin alone has a carbon footprint comparable to all of New Zealand. And artists — one of the populations hit hardest by the economic fallout of the pandemic — are desperately trying to cash in on the NFT craze, even though it’s throwing the futures of emerging artists under the bus by turning them into the kind of nonsensical financial products that, yet again, ultimately only make hedge fund managers and crypto hoarders rich.”
- Once Upon a Time in Mexico: A Former Tijuana Cop Now Teaches Secrets of the Trade
by David Bruce
Quote: “Ed Calderon worked as a police officer in Tijuana for over a decade, fighting against cartels, kidnappers, coyotes, and organized crime. Day after day, he analyzed the trade craft used by criminals to scam, capture, or kill. He watched cartel kidnappers looking to capture suspected snitches, their victims later strung up to be interrogated and tortured to death. Of particular interest to Calderon were techniques used to evade capture or escape from restraints. He captured all those techniques in a small book he carried. He joked to his colleagues that it was Ed’s Manifesto.”
The Magnificent Seven #38: Power Bends Light – 11/04/21
- Power Bends Light
by Emily Nakashima
Quote: “One well-known one: at a fast-growing startup, a hard-working, talented person who has some support from company leadership* can often acquire an impressive title (or at least a lot of de facto power) very quickly.
I’ve met a lot of people who have come to power this way with little or no management experience and sometimes not even much experience with the core responsibilities of their role. Everything is new, and having power itself is one more new thing. I first landed in that situation only a few years into my programming career, and I found it so disorienting. I could sometimes feel that, just as mass distorts the fabric of space time, power was reshaping everything around me, but I couldn’t see exactly how. Here are some things I wish I’d known at the time…”
- New Models for Funding and Organising Science
by Jose Luis Ricón Fernández de la Puente
Quote: “Adversarial research is not well recognized in academia. On paper, there is nothing preventing scientists from attacking and outright tanking the careers of their peers into oblivion, but in practice that is a bad career move. Scientists are all playing the same game, and you want to make friends, not enemies. Finding something new is what gets you tenure. Rarely it has been the case that anyone that has brought order to the house of science has ended up sitting with the grownups at the dinner table. The Adversarial Research Institute (ARI) would change that by directly hiring researchers that just want to police the rest of science. Unbridled from the need to curry the favor of peers of any sort, and able to hang out with fellow epistemic nihilists, they would be able to work full time on adding more Refutations to a landscape full of Conjectures.”
- How Complex Systems Fail
by Richard I. Cook
I enjoyed both reading these eighteen brief points and thinking of evidence for them in my own life. One thing in particular jumped out, though. When we engage with complex systems, we are often looking outward. But turn the tools of systems thinking and complexity inwards and it quickly becomes apparent how ineffective (and harmful) many pop psychological and philosophical ideas are.
Quote: “A corollary to the preceding point is that complex systems run as broken systems. The system continues to function because it contains so many redundancies and because people can make it function, despite the presence of many flaws. After accident reviews nearly always note that the system has a history of prior ‘proto-accidents’ that nearly generated catastrophe. Arguments that these degraded conditions should have been recognized before the overt accident are usually predicated on naïve notions of system performance. System operations are dynamic, with components (organizational, human, technical) failing and being replaced continuously.”
- Louvre Collections
The Louvre has created a searchable and filterable online database of all its works of art. I did begin to randomly look through some paintings but that soon became tiresome. Instead, I found myself working through some of the themed albums instead.
Quote: “The database for the Louvre’s collections consists of entries for more than 480,000 works of art that are part of the national collections and registered in the inventories of the museum’s eight curatorial departments (Near Eastern Antiquities; Egyptian Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities; Islamic Art; Paintings; Medieval, Renaissance and Modern Sculpture; Prints and Drawings; Medieval, Renaissance and Modern Decorative Arts), those of the History of the Louvre department, or the inventories of the Musée National Eugène-Delacroix, administratively attached to the Louvre since 2004.”
- Russian National Championships 2020 highlights
by Instant Arsvita
I’ve begun to work more groundwork into my movement training. As a result, I’ve been on YouTube looking for some novel techniques and drills. I ended up watching wrestling highlights, such as the one linked. Dan John wrote an article an age ago about “armour building“; these guys have metal plate.
- Fascism Anyone?
by Laurence W. Britt
I finally looked up the fourteen hallmarks of fascism, from nationalism to media capture and cronyism. Here in the UK, I think we’ve marked at least eleven off the bingo card, possibly twelve. The convergence of the ruling party with religion and avid militarism are the boxes not entirely satisfied.
Quote: “We are two-and-a-half generations removed from the horrors of Nazi Germany, although constant reminders jog the consciousness. German and Italian fascism form the historical models that define this twisted political worldview. Although they no longer exist, this worldview and the characteristics of these models have been imitated by protofascist1 regimes at various times in the twentieth century. Both the original German and Italian models and the later protofascist regimes show remarkably similar characteristics. Although many scholars question any direct connection among these regimes, few can dispute their visual similarities.”
by Zahra Hankir
Quote: “I knew I was fortunate to have these opportunities. But I still yearned for my motherland and my mother. I regularly read her journals, which she had gifted to me when I departed Lebanon, telling myself that she had had it far worse than I ever would. But I, too, daydreamed about Sunday lunches at my grandparents’ orchard. I longed for wafts of jasmine and honeysuckle, and glimpses of the old city gates, veranda shutters, and mosaic tiles. Trapped between languages, I reminded myself to think in Arabic. Just one more year, I told myself.”
The Magnificent Seven #37: Lost in Thought – 04/04/21
- Lost in Thought
by David Kortava
Meditation is risky. I’d never really thought of it as such, but this article–and some others I’ve seen over recent months–have shown me the difference between sitting for ten minutes and diving into a ten-day retreat. The former is probably harmless; the latter can be, as the article describes, fatal.
Quote: “The Buddhist ascetics who took up meditation in the fifth century bc did not view it as a form of stress relief. “These contemplative practices were invented for monastics who had renounced possessions, social position, wealth, family, comfort, and work,” writes David McMahan, a professor of religious studies at Franklin and Marshall College, in a 2017 book, Meditation, Buddhism, and Science. Monks and nuns sought to transcend the world and its cycles of rebirth and awaken in nirvana, an unfathomable state of equanimity beyond space and time, or at least avoid being reincarnated as a mountain goat or a hungry spirit in the hell realm underground. In the Pali suttas, the earliest Buddhist texts, the Buddha discusses meditation almost exclusively with audiences of followers ready to reject all earthly belongings. “Generally meditation is presented as something monastics aspiring to full awakening do,” McMahan writes, “an activity that is part of a way of being in the world that is ultimately aimed at exiting the world, rather than a means to a happier, more fulfilling life within it.””
- Dual goals
by Ido Portal
This reminds me of something I learned about from an Andy Groves book and a Marc Andreessen article: “paired indicators”.
Quote: “One temporary yet pragmatic solution I’ve found for myself over the years is pursuing two somewhat opposing simple goals from the start.
Instead of crashing into the wall, paying with injury, stagnation, loss of momentum, interest and function, such a double direction pursuit, especially when standing on opposite sides of a spectrum, will resolve many of these issues from developing, especially prematurely.
At initial stages of the practice such a double direction will definitely slow things down yet in later stages it will prove itself very valuable as it enables you to traverse various plateaus that arise due to acute disruption of homeostasis.
At the elite and final stages of the practice, the dual direction will once again block the practitioner from achieving the ultimate capacity but at the same time will protect you from paying the ultimate price that the hyper specialized will often pay.”
- Ideas not mattering is a psyop
by Stephen Malina, Alexey Guzey, Leopold Aschenbrenner
Quote: “When we first went to write this section, Stephen started to write about how obvious Clubhouse was in retrospect. But then when pressed by Alexey, Stephen realized that while live audio on an app might be obvious, the other aspects of Clubhouse’s implementation—rooms, microphone privileges, hand-raising combined with elevation to the stage, innovative privacy violations—are not obvious at all and he could not have come up with them himself.
In the same way most people think they understand how bikes work but cannot come close to drawing a working bike, many of us think we could have generated a seemingly obvious idea when really we would have come up with a version lacking key components that make the actual idea work. Note that it took decades between the introduction of the first bicycles for their designs to stop being utterly ridiculous and to start being actually convenient to use.”
- Cognition, Communism and Theft
By Alexandra Elbakyan and Hoçâ Cové-Mbede
A text interview with the SciHub founder. Quote: “In the Middle Ages books were copied by hand and it was a very tedious task and books were precious. So to protect books from stealing, a popular method was to insert a curse in the beginning or the end of the book, so that somebody who would steal that book will be cursed and go to Hell or get an illness or something else very bad will happen to them. Because Elsevier and other publishers also insist that their books and articles are being stolen by such websites as Sci-Hub and Library Genesis, I thought that is quite funny if they would also try using curses to protect their articles and books. Perhaps that will be a better method than suing us for copyright?”
- Lexiculture: Octopi
by Kayla Niner
Quote: “So, for those who are in favor of ‘octopi,’ why is giving an English word a Latin plural so important? According to Anne Kingston of McLean’s, “Latin hones cerebral muscles” and is a “formal, stately language” (2013). Another article about Latin in Maine suggests that the study of this ancient language improves SAT scores because it helps kids to learn logic and understand English (Press-Herald 2007). Pushing Latin to the side for a moment, one should recall the numerous studies that tout these health benefits from learning any second language (NEA Research 2007). This love for Latin may be born out of popular views of Roman society, where the general public mostly learns about Julius Caesar, Virgil, and other well-known ‘good’ Roman figures. If instead people only learned about the slaves, dictators, and gladiators of Rome, it might become an ugly language based on context alone (Bauer and Trudgill 1998:91). Nonetheless, the importance of Latin in the minds of some has caused the octopi vs. octopuses war to rage onwards.”
- Re-making the British state
Quote: “Britain should have more devolution, not less. City mayors have had a good pandemic: their popular standing ought to be matched by resources and responsibility. The balance of power between the branches of government needs to shift away from the executive, not towards it. The legislature should have a second chamber with more credibility; that means replacing a selection process for the House of Lords that combines feudalism and cronyism with an elective one. Turning the Lords into a senate of the devolved nations and the regions would give it a useful dual role. The judges’ power to prevent ministers from acting unlawfully ought to be bolstered, not constrained. Regulators with the independence to insulate business from ministerial whim need to be set up to wield some of the powers that are returning from Brussels.”
- Concepts and forms of greenwashing
by Sebastião Vieira de Freitas Netto, Marcos Felipe Falcão Sobral, Ana Regina Bezerra Ribeiro, Gleibson Robert da Luz Soares
This paper offers a nice breakdown of “greenwashing” into firm-level and product/service level greenwashing, and a further sub-division of each into claim and executional greenwashing. It also comes to a rather bleak conclusion; greenwashing, like so many of modern civilisation’s ailments, is hard to definitively identify and even harder to definitively counteract.
Quote: “Parguel et al. described a new form of greenwashing that the authors called ‘Executional Greenwashing’. This strategy of greenwashing does not use any type of claim that was described before, but it suggests nature-evoking elements such as images using colors (e.g., green, blue) or sounds (e.g., sea, birds). Backgrounds representing natural landscapes (e.g., mountains, forests, oceans) or pictures of endangered animal species (e.g., pandas, dolphins) or renewable sources of energy (e.g., wind, waterfalls) are examples of executional nature-evoking elements. The research addressed to this gap in the literature by documenting the executional greenwashing effect based on advertising execution knowledge.”
The Magnificent Seven #36: Solar Protocol – 28/03/21
- Solar Protocol
by Tega Brain, Alex Nathanson and Benedetta Piantella.
Quote: “Instead, the Solar Protocol network is built with a different logic based on the sun, automatically directing traffic to whichever server is generating the most solar energy at the time of the request. Decisions about where to move computational activity in the network are made according to where there is the most naturally available energy, rather than according to what would produce the quickest results for the user. In other words, in Solar Protocol, the distribution of sunshine (and therefore energy) across the planet determines the path from client to server.”
- Think Outside the Chair
by Katy Bowman
A simple, effective poster to remind us all that sitting well doesn’t require an ergonomically-optimised chair-prison to hold us in place. The key is in the constant transience of posture, not the perfection of a single one. More on that front: check out Bowman’s post about building an environment that encourages movement, instead of trying to force yourself to move in an environment that actively discourages it.
- Leo Szilard’s Failed Quest to Build a Ruling Class
by Zachary Lerangis
Quote: “Those who create powerful technology often do not end up deciding how it is used. As in the case of nuclear fission, the existing political system subsumes their creations into its own tightly controlled structures, which are difficult to influence. Genius, technical expertise, and access do not guarantee that decision-makers will listen.”
- The Problem with Big Oil’s ‘Forest Fever’
by Phoebe Cooke
In which I learned a new word–“greenwashing”–and was reminded of Donella Meadow’s assertion that there are good places (and not-so-good places) to intervene in a system.
Quote: “Projects are deemed successful if they store carbon for around 100 years. But it’s very hard to know who will be assessing the schemes by then. And trees only provide temporary storage for harmful gases. When trees die they decay, releasing the stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. So what happens to the land after the trees come to the end of their natural lives is also a problematic unknown.”
- Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System
by Donella Meadows
Referencing Meadows above made me realise I haven’t shared this article/essay during the lifetime of the Magnificent Seven. That was silly, as it’s one of the densest documents around. A mistake now corrected.
Quote: “In a minute I’ll go through the list I ended up with, explain the jargon, give examples and exceptions. The reason for this introduction is to place the list in a context of humility and to leave room for evolution. What bubbled up in me that day was distilled from decades of rigorous analysis of many different kinds of systems done by many smart people. But complex systems are, well, complex. It’s dangerous to generalize about them. What you are about to read is a work in progress. It’s not a recipe for finding leverage points. Rather it’s an invitation to think more broadly about system change.”
- Marie Ranzenhoferová – a survivor of the 1945 Brno Death March
My partner put me onto this some time back after reading the related novel, Gerta. It’s about Czechoslovakian citizens expelling German-speaking residents in the wake of the Second World War. It reminds me of what Rene Girard considered the primary thing separating humanity from other species; the boundless capacity for vengeance.
Quote: “I also saw a woman who carried a baby that was crying. One of the guards began yelling at her to make the baby stop. But it didn’t, so he took the baby and threw it into the field. I think he killed it. And I also saw this old man; he said he couldn’t walk anymore, and he sat down on the side of the road. I came up to him and offered help. I took his hand but he was dead. He sat down and died.”
- To Begin Where I Am
by Czeslaw Milosz
As a little diversion from the mammoth, The History of Middle Earth, I picked up this from my bought-but-not-read pile. Thus far, it’s been thoroughly enjoyable to enter the mind of someone with a sensitive perception and a resolute, somewhat romantic faith in the upsides of reality. It’s also been jarring to consider stark notions–e.g. in Journey to the West, Milosz describing how France’s rebellious spirit is built upon an unbroachable foundation of abstracted-away suffering–through the lens of civil and sincere prose. I also began Ian C. Esslemont’s Novels of the Malazan Empire series, which I’ve long been looking forward to.
The Magnificent Seven #35: Common Cyborg – 21/03/21
- Common Cyborg
by Jillian Weiss
Quote: “Something happened. He [Ray Kurzweil] used to work with us. His early machines were developed for the Blind. Now he surrounds himself with other tryborgs: men who add tech to their bodies for pleasure and to live forever. Their version of the cyborg is a kind of early Christian. Here is a letter addressed to Diognetus in the 2nd century. The anonymous writer describes the early Christians. It reads like Kurzweil describing the cyborgs of the Singularity. Instead of the word heaven, let us substitute nanotube circuitry.
‘They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of nanotube circuitry. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives.'”
- We are in triage every second of every day
by Holly Elmore
Quote: “There are millions of people around the world dying of entirely preventable causes. Why should it make any difference that they aren’t in front of us? You know they are there. They know the suffering they feel. Poverty is a major culprit, as are neglected tropical diseases that could be cured for pennies per person per year. Money that you won’t even miss could be saving lives right now if you put it to that purpose instead of, say, home improvement or collecting action figures. Every decision we make bears on the lives of the myriad others we might be able to help.”
- The Trouble with Re-Enchantment
by Jason Crawford
Quote: “More to the point: it could be that the contradictions of early modern disenchantment are bound to trouble any program of postmodern re-enchantment. If enchantment is illusion, melting like snow, then there’s a kind of absurdity in willing your own enchantment. At the very least, the work of re-enchantment will always involve the willing suspension of a disbelief that must remain the baseline of our cognitive and spiritual existence. No wonder that when we talk of re-enchantment, we talk of fantasy genres, of simulations and theme parks, of adults choosing to inhabit a condition of childhood. The whole notion of entering a dream state depends upon the notion of leaving a waking state, presumably with the intention of returning. On the other hand: if enchantment is violence, undergirded by real spiritual power, then the notion of willing my own enchantment is fraught in other ways. Within the notions of enchantment that shape much early modern writing, the power to enchant does not belong to the one under the spell. If you’re enchanted, you probably don’t know it and can’t name it. You certainly can’t control or orchestrate it, can’t relegate it to your leisurely reading time or schedule it for Saturday evening, after the tailgate party. You can do these things with entertainment, and with the goods of a consumer economy. But enchantment, as the early architects of modernity experienced it, is a more potent spirit than that.”
- Re-framing the threat of global warming
by C. E. Richards, R. C. Lupton, J. M. Allwood
Quote: “While some of these relationships may appear obvious, it is the act of bringing this information, which may otherwise be siloed and thus preventing consideration of the full story, together in one place that is of value (Sterman 2011). In doing so, our CLD [causal loop diagram] attempts to provide readers with the opportunity to explore the climate change, food insecurity and societal collapse causal pathway, consider worst-case scenarios that we want to avoid, develop transformative narratives of “where we want to go” and think about interventions that may help us attain this desired future (Hinkel et al. 2020).”
- Analogue reality
By me. Quote: “…what’s new to me is the analogue nature of each and every moment. Which is another way of saying that each and every moment is truly fractal, complex beyond measure, complex regardless of measure. Seeing this is one thing. Living in alignment with that perception is another. Yet the greatest danger of all is losing one’s self. Entering the Gap and never coming out.”
- Introduction to Functional Range Conditioning
by Craig Lindell
Quote: “We start with the FRC principle: controlled articular rotations. This is a great intro to FRC, the concept of CARs is that the joint capsule relays multidirectional and rotatory information to the central nervous system (CNS). For this reason, the rotatory component of CARs is imperative and should not be overlooked. The mechanoreceptors that innervate our joint capsules provide the CNS with afferent feedback carrying signals that pertain to what is going on within the joint. More stimulus to the mechanoreceptors means more afferent feedback to the CNS, which causes more efferent output back to the musculoskeletal system, ultimately inducing more control.”
A CAR means moving a joint through its fullest range of available motion. I’ve been trying to introduce CARs sporadically, but wanted to understand what they form a foundation for. The endgame, it turns out, is more body control.
FRC was developed by Andreo Spina. I also ended up watching a video with Spina discussing the complexity of BJJ. The point was made that the most complex movement scenarios are those involving someone else–which reiterates the idea that movement performed always in isolation results in impoverished movement capacity.
- High Profiles: Rory Stewart
by Harry Smart and Rory Stewart
Quote: “I didn’t leave Iraq feeling pessimistic about human nature; I left feeling that Western institutions were idiotic and that the theories of Western intervention were flawed. When I went to Afghanistan [in 2005–08], I felt an immense sort of respect and admiration for the Afghans I worked with. I wouldn’t really have described it as a chaotic society that needed to be overawed; I saw it more as a society of immense virtue and honour that was able to operate despite the government.
Where I felt much more depressed, I think, was in Britain, because of all the things that are characteristic of modernity. In a way, I was very privileged in Afghanistan to glimpse a society which had probably been missing from Britain for many hundreds of years, a society in which, genuinely, ideas of virtue, honour, dignity, self-respect were incredibly important in framing people’s lives and choices.”
The Magnificent Seven #34: Contract for Sale of Soul- 14/03/21
- Contract for Sale of Soul
by Liminal Warmth
This threw up some pretty interesting discussion on Twitter. Quoting the contract’s start: “This agreement is entered into freely by both parties set forth in the signature block below (“Buyer” and “Seller”) and both parties agree to honor and be bound by the terms of this agreement in any court, real, imagined, or otherwise, or as set before any judge or any being serving in a similarly recognizable capacity making judgment as to the validity of this contract, in any state of reality or nonreality, physical or metaphysical, for all eternity (past, present, and future) and also any states of being or nonbeing outside of our human conception of time.”
- The Path to Reason
by Jacob Falkovich
I don’t count myself as a rationalist but I do realise that it has a lot of useful tools and perspectives to offer. This post is a quick overview of the journey to accessing those things.
Quote: “The way to progress in rationality is not to use explicit reason to brute-force every problem but to use it to integrate all of your mental faculties: intuition, social cognition, language sense, embodied cognition, trusted authorities, visual processing… The place to start is with the ways of thinking that served you well before you stumbled onto a rationalist blog or some other gateway into a method and community of explicit reasoners.”
- Powerful DNA Software Used in Hundreds of Criminal Cases Faces New Scrutiny
by Lauren Kirchner
In which the source code of a proprietary software used in DNA analysis (specifically, probabilistic genotyping) gets opened up.
Also, it’s worth noting that, although DNA evidence is considered the “gold standard of forensic evidence”, it is nowhere near as damning as most are lead to believe; more here.
Quote: ” “Our justice system cannot permit convictions based on secret evidence,” wrote the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania in an amicus brief to the federal court. “There is a long history of junk science employed under the guise of technological advancement in criminal cases—and of public access to and analysis of such evidence as the means to its eventual invalidation.” “
- Hallucinations-on-demand, artificial reefs: How science fiction is inspiring innovation
by Maddy Stone and Dan Novy
I didn’t expect this to start with science and end up with magic from Dungeons and Dragons, but it did. And this makes me happy.
Quote: “And so I will often hand someone in the class the D&D Player’s Handbook and say, I want you to build a spell. I want you to make one of these spells real. And so I had a student for a final project who was a lifelong D&D player, and she loved the light spell. Like, this is like one of the most basic spells in D&D. You cast light. It’s a blob of light that floats above your head but is hand tracked, so you can move it around. You can push it where you need it, you can pull it. And so she built an incredibly bright LED on a drone with a camera pointing that was doing hand tracking. So the drone takes off, tracks her hand, floats above us and there’s light. So we turned out all the lights in the room and there was just this floating ball of light that tracked over her head. And I’m like, that is the light spell. You did it.”
- I have one of the most advanced prosthetic arms in the world – and I hate it
by Britt H. Young
Some perspective on what it’s like to live with prosthetics, and deal with the perceptions about such a life.
Quote: “Don’t get me wrong — I have been psyched about a new arm, too! But the media’s coverage of these new kinds of prosthetics is so focused on the initial joy or incredulity — on the idea that “lives are changed” — that they forget to ask if these hands are actually useful and what happens in the weeks and months after the unboxing.”
- The Sordid Story of the Most Successful Political Party in the World
by Samuel Earle
The Tory playbook: own media institutions, blather on about the already exhausted fumes of historic significance, and pair shameless populism with the unscrupulous maintenance of a political over-class. Alongside the government’s increasingly blatant contempt for transparency, funnelling of funds to Tory strongholds and friendly pockets, and voter suppression via the introduction of voter IDs, the UK–and its citizens–are being dragged towards a bleak horizon.
Quote: “The audit of the pandemic has offered a brutal assessment of Britain: a wealthy nation where a quarter of the population, and one in three children, live in poverty, after a stark rise since 2010; where state welfare is now among the stingiest in the developed world and life expectancy is in decline. Johnson’s election promises to “level up” the country and reinvest were always unlikely—there is a reason why, of The Sunday Times Rich List’s top 20, only one donated to Labour (and even that donor also gave to the Tories). But after the pandemic, the chances are even lower. A new age of austerity looms—though Johnson will no doubt deliver it with a smile.”
- How to Stop Saying, “Um,” “Ah,” and “You Know”
by Noah Zandan
I am a notorious user of “uhhh”s and I’m trying to change that. The basic tip–embrace the silence–is one that’s hard to do in practice. The below quote also stood out.
Quote: “Pauses aren’t easy to embrace. For many speakers, even the briefest pause can feel like an interminable silence. That’s because we tend to think faster than we speak. According to our research, the average professional speaks at a rate of 150 words per minute. Yet, according to research from Missouri University, we think at 400 words per minute (and depending on who you ask, the rate may be as high as 1,500 words per minute).”
The Magnificent Seven #33: Thoughts on Pratchett – 07/03/21
- Thoughts on Pratchett
by Patrick Rothfuss
In which Rothfuss digs up an interview where Pratchett says…
“Fantasy is without a shadow of a doubt the ur-literature, the spring from which all other literature has flown. Up to a few hundred years ago no one would have disagreed with this, because most stories were, in some sense, fantasy. Back in the middle ages, people wouldn’t have thought twice about bringing in Death as a character who would have a role to play in the story. Echoes of this can be seen in Pilgrim’s Progress, for example, which hark back to a much earlier type of storytelling. The epic of Gilgamesh is one of the earliest works of literature, and by the standard we would apply now— a big muscular guys with swords and certain godlike connections— That’s fantasy. The national literature of Finland, the Kalevala. Beowulf in England. I cannot pronounce Bahaghvad-Gita but the Indian one, you know what I mean. The national literature, the one that underpins everything else, is by the standards that we apply now, a work of fantasy.”
- Nonverbal Overload
by Jeremy N. Bailenson
Potential primary causes of “Zoom fatigue”. Quote: “Excessive amounts of close-up eye gaze, cognitive load, increased self-evaluation from staring at video of oneself, and constraints on physical mobility.”
Immediate fixes for self-evaluation, close-up eye gazing and physical mobility are possible, as Bailenson discusses towards the end. As are longer, more sustainable changes, such as audio-first meetings and adopting more flexible call setups. Not sure how to get around the cognitive load factor, outside of sheer conditioning.
- Notes on Citizenship and Belonging
by Ambarien Alqadar
Quote: “Looking at the barren trees through my study window, I’m haunted by the specter of detention centers being built in far-flung corners of India. On my Facebook feed, viral videos of Muslim men being openly lynched make my stomach turn. I don’t have a language to articulate that fear except that I can hear its heavy steps draw near. On many days I find it hard to make sense of the ‘here’ and ‘there’ of my existence. As I held scraps of the letters in my hands, I asked myself what could they prove, if anything at all?”
- If Aliens Exist, Here’s How We’ll Find Them
by Martin Rees and Mario Livio
Some hair-raising speculation in this one. The brief reference to the debate around consciousness also reminded me of a phrase from Iain Banks’ Culture series: “carbon fascists”.
Quote from the article: “If we want to go to further extremes, the total mass-energy content in the Local Group isn’t the limit of the available resources. It would still be consistent with physical laws for an incredibly advanced civilization to lasso the galaxies that are receding because of the cosmic expansion of space before they accelerate and disappear over the horizon. Such a hyper-intelligent species could pull them in to construct a segment resembling Einstein’s original idea of a static universe in equilibrium, with a mean density such that the cosmic repulsion caused by dark energy is precisely balanced by gravity.”
- Inside the Whale: An Interview with an Anonymous Amazonian
Interesting stuff here: AMZ’s physical foundation, Prime Video as a loss leader for Bezos’ post-divorce mingling, primitive internal comms, AWS’ security as a selling point and more.
Quote: “If you have a ton of data in your data center and you want to move it to AWS but you don’t want to send it over the internet, we’ll send an eighteen-wheeler to you filled with hard drives, plug it into your data center with a fiber optic cable, and then drive it across the country to us after loading it up with your data…
…We have a product called Snowmobile. It’s a gas-guzzling truck. There are no public pictures of the inside, but it’s pretty cool. It’s like a modular datacenter on wheels. And customers rightly expect that if they load a truck with all their data, they want security for that truck. So there’s an armed guard in it at all times.”
- Mandalorian Season 2 Virtual Production Innovations
by Mike Seymour
Quote: ‘“We scan what they source and what they build or paint,” points out Bluff. All props and on-stage elements are brought into UE4, which is used by all the departments in pre-viz, such as the virtual art department which also leverages VR for scouting and heads of department reviews. The final content can be created in Unreal, Houdini, 3DS Max or any number of other DCC packages, and then, for the shoot days, all of it gets seamlessly read into ILM’s Helios real-time renderer for accurate display on the LED walls. Collaboration is central to the StageCraft ILM pipeline.’
- Game Theory – The Minimax Algorithm Explained
by Marissa Eppes
The computing course I’m taking is beginning to shift towards the mechanics of algorithms, so this article is appropriate.
Quote: “When we think about relatively complex games with ginormous search spaces and a variety of strategies, we are lucky if the computer can look even a few moves into the future. But as history shows time and time again, this general strategy still works better than human brainpower alone, provided our utility rules are effective.”
The Magnificent Seven #32: OpenLux – 28/02/21
- OpenLux by Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project:
The link takes one to the OpenLux hub page. From there, there’s multiple articles. One is Shedding Light on Big Secrets in Tiny Luxembourg.
Quote: ‘Zucman says Luxembourg has become “a kind of Swiss army knife” for financial services.
“The British Virgin Islands, for instance, they do essentially one thing — they are a place where it’s possible to create shell companies quickly, cheaply,” he said. Panama saw the same trend, while Switzerland specialized in the management of private wealth stored in offshore bank accounts. The Cayman Islands became known for hedge funds.
“Luxembourg is present and active in all these areas: Profit-shifting by multinational firms, incorporation of mutual funds, wealth management, private wealth management, creation of shell companies, and so on. That’s what makes Luxembourg unique.”‘
- Occupational Hazards by Faisal Itani:
I’m not quite sure how to contextualise this one, so I’ll just leave you with a quote: ‘“I’m going to ask you a sensitive question, son: Did you boys run that man over on purpose?”
He must have read my confusion as nervousness and said: “Relax. If you say yes, we can skip all this interrogation hassle. I’ll write up a favorable report, we’ll get you out of here. You’re a young man with your life ahead of you. We expect young men to behave like idiots anyway. In any case, he deserved it.”’
- Turkish Get Up Articles by StrongFirst:
This links to all StrongFirst posts related to TGUs. I ended up reading a few as I wanted to review my own TGU technique. Two additions–palm up, fist clenched during the roll and stepping, instead of swinging, the leg–have proven effective already. I’m looking out for more tweaks.
I also ended up checking out Original Strength’s segmental egg roll and a video of Mark Rippetoe discussing adaptation. He says, “…for a completely untrained person, riding a bicycle will make their bench press go up.”
- Rubber duck debugging:
Something that came up because of my ongoing computing adventure. In full:
“1) Beg, borrow, steal, buy, fabricate or otherwise obtain a rubber duck (bathtub variety).
2) Place rubber duck on desk and inform it you are just going to go over some code with it, if that’s all right.
3) Explain to the duck what your code is supposed to do, and then go into detail and explain your code line by line.
4) At some point you will tell the duck what you are doing next and then realise that that is not in fact what you are actually doing. The duck will sit there serenely, happy in the knowledge that it has helped you on your way.”
It’s a helpful exercise, and one that reminds me of the Feynman technique–and Feynman’s assertion: “I cannot create what I do not understand.”
Rubber duck debugging, in combination with an article arguing note-taking is a waste of time (relatively speaking), is inspiring me to reconsider my learning-related processes.
- Textbook manifesto by Allen B. Downey:
The manifesto begins with a rather simple assertion–“students should read and understand textbooks”–and ends up discussing some of the many perverse incentives present in formal education.
Quote: “Here’s what happens. The professor chooses a 1000-page book and assigns students to read 50 pages a week. They can’t and they don’t, so the professor spends class time explaining what the students couldn’t read. Before long, the students learn that they shouldn’t even try. The result is a 1000-page doorstop.”
I also ended up reading Free Books? Why Not? Quote: “A free book is the root of a tree of potential adaptations, translations, and entirely new books that branch out from the original. Free books transform readers into proof-readers, editors, anthologists, correspondents, contributors, collaborators, writers and authors.”
- More impactful than the opposition by Jolyon Maugham:
A short thread by director of the Good Law Project. The most harrowing of the five tweets summarises the UK’s political reality: “Politically appointed regulators, a dominant and tame state news agency, the use of public money for Party purposes, a civil service neutral only in name, and an irrelevant Parliament is pretty close to a prescription for the end of democracy.”
This reminds of two requirements of a healthy democracy; a functional and effective opposition party, and an impermeable partition that prevents the current ruling party from seeing themselves as and acting as the de facto state.
The UK is well on the way to not meeting those requirements. But to see what happens when those two requirements are actually not met, check out this thread on Alexei Navalny’s appeal and sentencing, put together by the Financial Times’ Moscow correspondent, Max Seddon.
- The World of Critical Role by Liz Marsham:
I don’t watch much TV, but for the last two years I’ve watched the second Critical Rolecampaign unfold. That is, each week I’ve sat down for several hours and watched seven voice actors stream a live Dungeons and Dragons game. Of course, I had to read the accompanying book. And the book was good. On a related note, I also ended up reading about how Nicole van Der Hoeven uses Roam Research for DnD.
The Magnificent Seven #31: COVID-19 Vaccine Manufacturing Special Edition – 21/02/21
- The consequences of global COVID vaccine inequality by Jonathon Fenton-Harvey:
This short article raises some basic points and some less obvious questions. Basic: wealthy nations get vaccines first, while those already impoverished on a molecular level are handed another risk factor to contend with. Questions: are vaccines a weapon in geopolitical manoeuvring? Will vaccine inequality, and the generation of new outbreak clusters and fresh mutations it results in, make vaccines ineffective?
It also led me to Our World in Data’s COVID-19 page, and its vaccine data. It’s also worth checking out the OWID dive into the history of vaccination.
- Scenario Z / Stacks are eating the world by Venkatesh Rao:
Two threads from Venkat. The thing that stood out from the Scenario Z thread: “Don’t forget, human civilization has spent 6000 years in a infectious-disease-ravaged state and only 60 in an infectious-disease-dominating state. 1% of history. No fundamental reason to believe the state change is an irreversible level-up with backsliding being impossible.”
I cite the Stacks are eating the world thread because I think this is exemplified by the current vaccine manufacturing and distribution situation. Quote: “Structure = sclerosis / Functional specialization = bureaucracy / competencies = inertial habits / “Stack” thinking instead lets technology structure (rather than market structure) drive business org logic”
- Why Even Presidential Pressure Might Not Get More Vaccine to Market Faster by Liz Szabo, Sarah Jane Tribble, Arthur Allen and Jay Hancock:
Quote: ‘The vaccines ‘are not widgets,’ said Lurie, who served as assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration. Every step, experts say, to get vaccines to market has its complexities: obtaining raw materials; building facilities to precise specifications; buying single-use products, such as tubing and plastic bags to line stainless steel bioreactors; and hiring employees with the requisite training and expertise. Companies also must pass safety and quality inspections and arrange for transportation.”
- I Asked Bill Gates What’s The Next Crisis? by Veritasium:
An interesting interview. The whole thing is good, but at around 9:00 minutes in, the host asks Gates about the Gates Foundation’s involvement in Oxford’s decision not to open-source their vaccine.
- Vaccine Source Codes Part 1 and Part 2 by Bert Hubert:
Part one looks specifically at the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine source code and breaks it down into six distinct pieces. It also taught me that DNA and RNA differ in the same way that flash memory and RAM do–the former being more robust, redundant and reliable than the latter. Part two looks at other vaccines and their type: either mRNA, viral vector, protein subunit or attenuated/inactivated virus. The article, What is Life?, is also worth a peak; it’s about RNA, DNA and proteins.
- Making Vaccine by John Wentworth:
I’m in no position to evaluate whether this 1) works and 2) is safe. But it’s still interesting: a primitive vaccine for barely more than three figures? Madness. (Note: the vaccine experiment described in the article is based on methods cited in the Radical Deployment Vaccine Collaborative (RaDVaC) whitepaper, itself created by a group of citizen scientists.)
Quote: “I imagine, a year or two from now, looking back and grading my COVID response. When I imagine an A+ response, it’s something like “make my own fast tests, and my own vaccine, test that they actually work, and do all that in spring 2020”. We’ve all been complaining about how “we” (i.e. society) should do these things, yet to a large extent they’re things which we can do for ourselves unilaterally.”
- Exploring the Supply Chain of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 Vaccinesby Jonas Neubert:
The linked article is followed with two more (here and here), containing links to additional material.
Quote: “The following text is a collection of notes I wrote down while exploring the process for manufacturing and distributing the two new vaccines that have appeared all over the news and in more and more people’s arms over the recent weeks. I started reading about mRNA but quickly found myself on tangents about glass vials and temperature tracking devices.”
The Magnificent Seven #30: What Did We Lose When We Lost the Stars? – 14/02/21
- What Did We Lose When We Lost the Stars? by L.M. Sacasas:
A fascinating, and somewhat tragic, essay. Quote: “Curiously, this is a thoroughly modern lament. I don’t think Dante could have written it. The pre-Copernican cosmos, with the earth at its center surrounded by a series of concentric spheres on each of which a planet was embedded like a jewel, was a relatively cozy place. A man or woman looking up to the stars did not see a vast, cold, dark emptiness that made them feel small and insignificant, as we sometimes tend to do, perhaps especially to the degree that we have lost sight of the stars themselves. They saw instead a well-ordered cosmos in which they felt themselves at home. They saw, too, a realm bathed in light and, odd as it may seem to us, suffused with music—the so-called “music of the spheres” or musica universalis, itself a fascinating topic.”
- Myths of Vaccine Manufacturing by Derek Lowe:
Quote: “As Neubert says, “Welcome to the bottleneck!” Turning a mixture of mRNA and a set of lipids into a well-defined mix of solid nanoparticles with consistent mRNA encapsulation, well, that’s the hard part. Moderna appears to be doing this step in-house, although details are scarce, and Pfizer/BioNTech seems to be doing this in Kalamazoo, MI and probably in Europe as well. Everyone is almost certainly having to use some sort of specially-built microfluidics device to get this to happen – I would be extremely surprised to find that it would be feasible without such technology. Microfluidics (a hot area of research for some years now) involves liquid flow through very small channels, allowing for precise mixing and timing on a very small scale. Liquids behave quite differently on that scale than they do when you pour them out of drums or pump them into reactors (which is what we’re used to in more traditional drug manufacturing). That’s the whole idea. My own guess as to what such a Vaccine Machine involves is a large number of very small reaction chambers, running in parallel, that have equally small and very precisely controlled flows of the mRNA and the various lipid components heading into them. You will have to control the flow rates, the concentrations, the temperature, and who knows what else, and you can be sure that the channel sizes and the size and shape of the mixing chambers are critical as well.”
- Fast-twitch, slow-twitch by Jack Cheng:
Quote: “For years I’d been telling myself that, because of my inclination toward cross-country over track, toward writing novels over short stories, that I was, both physically and creatively, a long-distance runner. But could it be that this whole time, I was really a sprinter?!”
- Debunking Myths of the Human Body in Sport with Andrew Vigotsky:
A lot more focused than I expected (quasi-stiffness? electromyography?) but I came out with something useful. Andrew Vigotsky answers the question, “Do you have some simple recommendations for those coaches who may not have a rich background in statistics so they can use available research better?”
- Alexei Navalny’s Court Speech:
In case you missed it… Navalny is a Russian anti-corruption activist and opponent of the Putin regime. He was poisoned by Russian security services and expedited to a Berlin hospital in a critical condition, where he went on to recover. He recently returned to Russia, and his immediate arrest–and being sentenced to three years imprisonment–sparked protests across the country. In this remarkable speech, he confronts the spectre of Putin and responds to cowardice with courage. Listening to this felt like listening to a historic moment. “Then, an even more horrible thing happened: I not only survived, I wasn’t afraid, and I didn’t hide.” Complement this with an article about an accidental Russian politician, or a book by Masha Gessen.
- Hardware is Hard by Usman Yousaf:
Quote: “That being said, the realities of hardware can be daunting. Take the $3 million the company needs to get a product out the door, a similarly sized team could build a software application that can potentially grow much faster and they would still have a million dollars to do customer acquisition. Compounding this, the software would come with a recurring revenue stream. The trouble with hardware is that for the company to grow, they have to come out with the Smart Horn 2 and the Smart Horn 3, and go through all of the above again, and again.”
- What If An Idea Was So Dangerous It Could Lead to Your Eternal Damnation? by Andrew Reeves:
Quote: “A medieval schoolman would have held heresy to be dangerous to body and soul. A modern liberal rightly believes that white supremacy is utterly toxic to the functioning of a multi-racial society. The analogy between the two seems strong. But judging an idea dangerous is only part of it — the real question is what then we should do with those ideas.”
The Magnificent Seven #29: The Peace of Wild Things – 07/02/21
- The Peace of Wild Things by Charlotte Ager, Katy Wang and David Kamp:
An animated version of a Wendell Berry poem.
- Identity 2.0 Keynote by Dick Hardt:
I created and delivered my first slide deck recently, and I watched this for presentation style inspiration. The keynote itself is a decade and a half old, so it was interesting to evaluate the content from the here and now. I also looked into pechakucha, which is a presentation format consisting of twenty slides, each delivered in twenty seconds. Like many of these things, the spirit of the law is more important than the letter. H/t to Mike for the tip(s).
- Our Guide to Fuzzing by Matt Hillman:
“Fuzzing” is a simple concept; it involves feeding randomised inputs to a software program in order to reveal crashes and bugs. When applied, the basic concept–apply randomness to reveal a system’s properties–gets complex fast. It also rhymes with how human character is revealed.
- World Chase Tag:
You know that playground game? It’s a professional thing now. And it’s awesome to watch. Freerunners and parkour practitioners chasing each other around a podium filled with scaffolding and raised boards, the chaser trying to tag the evader within twenty seconds? Good stuff.
- We Spoke to a Guy Who Got His Dick Locked in a Cage by a Hacker by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:
A short article that reveals how an IoT device can become an instrument of terror.
- UK approves military exports to 80% of countries on own restricted list by Murray Jones:
Quote: “Trade does seem to trump human rights concerns. UK export licences for small arms and ammunition have been approved to 31 destinations on the embargoed and restricted list, including assault rifles, pistols, sniper rifles and shotguns. Many of these sent to areas that have recently suffered from violent conflicts or state oppression, including Kenya, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Kyrgyzstan, Togo, Oman, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Pakistan.”
Link this with an examination of Britain’s private military and security industry.
In other news, the UK government is trying to shut down an investigation of its corrupt procurement practices which saw billions go into crony’s pockets in exchange for unusable (and in some cases, undelivered) PPE.
- This is What a Civilisation Ending Feels Like by Umair Haque:
Quote: “I think we’ve seen a premonition of the end of our civilization. How does it all end? Like this. The rich try to run away. Everyone else is trapped by catastrophe, in catastrophe. Societies begin to fail and break. Social contracts come undone. The climate turn vicious. Nature tries to kill us. We turn on each other. There’s no easy way out.”
The Magnificent Seven #28: Why it makes sense to bike without a helmet – 31/01/21
- Why it makes sense to bike without a helmet by Howie Chong:
Quote: “People should be encouraged to take a quick bike ride, not the other way around. Unfortunately our society has conditioned cyclists to feel unsafe without a helmet, even though wearing one might actually increase the chance of a collision with a vehicle; and even though other activities capable of inflicting serious head wounds are enjoyed bare-headed without stigma.”
- Sketchy Medical:
This is ultra specific (and likely inapplicable for most of you) but still awesome. “Sketchy was founded by medical students as they navigated the rigors of their own exams. Dissatisfied with conventional study methods, the founders used humor, story, and characters to make the information easy to learn and recall. As they doodled on whiteboards and notebooks, they sought to recreate the experience for students around the world. After releasing a few viral YouTube videos, they took the leap and started what we know today as SketchyMedical.”
It came up in a thread by Michael Nielsen, in which he asks: “Curious: if you use memory palaces, is there any particularly striking or unusual thing you’ve used a memory palace to do?”
- Still Alive by Scott Siskind:
Scott, of Slate Star Codex fame, is back to blogging. This post is a fun compression of his experience over the last year and the rationale for his turn away from anonymity.
Quote: “With all due respect to these reporters, and with complete admission of my own bias, I reject this entire way of looking at things. If someone wants to report that I’m a 30-something psychiatrist who lives in Oakland, California, that’s fine, I’ve had it in my About page for years. If some reporter wants to investigate and confirm, I have some suggestions for how they could use their time better – isn’t there still a war in Yemen? – but I’m not going to complain too loudly. But I don’t think whatever claim the public has on me includes a right to know my name if I don’t want them to. I don’t think the public needs to know the name of the cops who write cop blogs, or the deadnames of trans people, or the dating lives of sexy cyborgs. I’m not even sure the public needs to know the name of Satoshi Nakamoto. If he isn’t harming anyone, let him have his anonymity! I would rather we get whatever pathologies come from people being able to invent Bitcoin scot-free, than get whatever pathologies come from anyone being allowed to dox anyone else if they can argue that person is “influential”. Most people don’t start out trying to be influential. They just have a Tumblr or a LiveJournal or something, and a few people read it, and then a few more people read it, and bam! – they’re influential! If influence takes away your protection, then none of us are safe – not the random grad student with a Twitter account making fun of bad science, not the teenager with a sex Tumblr, not the aspiring fashionista with an Instagram. I’ve read lots of interesting discussion on how much power tech oligarchs should or shouldn’t be allowed to have. But this is the first time I’ve seen someone suggest their powers should include a magic privacy-destroying gaze, where just by looking at someone they can transform them into a different kind of citizen with fewer rights. Is Paul Graham some weird kind of basilisk, such that anyone he stares at too long turns into fair game?”
- The Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation by Henepola Gunaratana:
For no particular reason, I’ve started a quick ten minute breathing meditation in the mornings. With that theme in mind, I read this. H/t to Zat Rana for the link.
Quote: “The various subjects and methods of meditation expounded in the Theravada Buddhist scriptures — the Pali canon and its commentaries — divide into two inter-related systems. One is called the development of serenity (samathabhavana), the other the development of insight (vipassanabhavana). The former also goes under the name of development of concentration (samadhibhavana), the latter the development of wisdom (paññabhavana).The practice of serenity meditation aims at developing a calm, concentrated, unified mind as a means of experiencing inner peace and as a basis for wisdom. The practice of insight meditation aims at gaining a direct understanding of the real nature of phenomena. Of the two, the development of insight is regarded by Buddhism as the essential key to liberation, the direct antidote to the ignorance underlying bondage and suffering. Whereas serenity meditation is recognized as common to both Buddhist and non-Buddhist contemplative disciplines, insight meditation is held to be the unique discovery of the Buddha and an unparalleled feature of his path. However, because the growth of insight presupposes a certain degree of concentration, and serenity meditation helps to achieve this, the development of serenity also claims an incontestable place in the Buddhist meditative process. Together the two types of meditation work to make the mind a fit instrument for enlightenment. With his mind unified by means of the development of serenity, made sharp and bright by the development of insight, the meditator can proceed unobstructed to reach the end of suffering, Nibbana.”
- Polyrhythms: All You Need to Know by Joelle Banton:
A follow on from my discovery of pianist’s Sofia Pamart’s work and the inclusion of Erang’s dungeon synth in my whilst-working playlists. In The Mushroom at the End of the World, Anne Lowenhaupt Tsing talks about assemblages, the convergence of diverse entities in a moment. Typically, diverse entities operate at different tempos, and Tsing happened to mention polyrhythms. After pulling up a polyrhythm playlist on Spotify, I started listening. And then I ended up reading the linked article, to better understand what I was hearing. Quote: “Traditional African music incorporates rhythms in a few different ways compared to typical western rhythms. There is a lot of emphasis placed on the primary beat in western music, and a lot of emphasis on secondary beats in traditional African music. As the use of rhythms here was developed by slaves, the layers are also used to tell a story. Lighter primary polyrhythms on certain instruments were played alongside another rhythm (usually played on the drum) which delivered a secret message that could not be understood by invaders or slave owners.”
- Ultorg by Eirik Bakke:
I was lucky enough to be able to play around with Ultorg, and speak with Eirik himself. But what is Ultorg? “Ultorg is the commercial implementation of SIEUFERD, a recently completed research project from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is a general-purpose user interface that provides the same functionality as a typical tailor-made database application, without requiring custom programming” Check out this paper for a deeper look into its context and functionality.
- The (Messy) Shift to Starting Together by John Cutler:
“In full disclosure, this would drive some people crazy. Leaders especially. It doesn’t look like “work” and feels lumbering. Makers thought it was superfluous. They just wanted to get going. It also cut to the real essence of autonomy. Autonomy for some people means implementing whatever solution they have in mind — that looks fun to work on. It also means not being “dragged down by other people” or “having to do lots of meetings”. There is another type of autonomy. And that type of autonomy involves being free to tackle a really challenging problem as a cross-functional team. Working as a team is messy. It means constantly revisiting what you understand together, and vacillating between “things are awesome” and “I’m not really sure what we are doing!””
The Magnificent Seven #27: The Music of the Universe is Loud and Melancholy – 24/01/21
- The Music of the Universe is Loud and Melancholy by Sarah Brumble: I read this and ended up listening to the sound of wind on Mars. More than once. Extraordinary, when I think about it. Quote from the linked article: “Propelled by a National Science Foundation grant, astronomer Greg Salvesen spent two years exploring the creative potential of sonifying astronomical data — making his code and music available at AstroSoM. His experimental compositions can convey something as abstract as the magnitude of supernovae discoveries in the late 20th century (set to a sparse rendition of “Champagne Supernova”). Another song arranges saxophones in accordance with a black hole going into outburst — one of the few phases in which the universe’s spookiest lurkers can be detected. The music of the universe is harrowingly beautiful. More importantly, perhaps, it renders outer space accessible in new ways to the visually impaired.”
- Erang’s Dungeon Synth: A friend, knowing my affinity for fantasy, Critical Role and epic scores, put me on to Erang’s dungeon synth. I’m glad he did. Quoting this brief Bandcamp piece: “Concept records have been around ever since Tommy put his first quarter in the pinball machine, but what Erang has done is far beyond a concept album—he’s created a concept discography, painstakingly mapped, populated by characters with their own distinct personalities, and soundtracked by Erang’s own hauntingly beautiful music. The First Age skews semi-medieval, with synths that alternately gently pipe and ominously wheeze; Kingdom of Erang is gorgeously unsettling, with windswept layers of guitar and keys creating an atmosphere of high drama; andCasting the Ancient Spell Again is his most immediate, beautiful work, filled with ribbons of synth that unspool slowly, casting spells that lull the listener into a dreamlike state. What stands out about all of Erang’s records is the certainty of vision—for all of the minute adjustments in approach, the throughline of fantasy and Early Music themes bind them all together as products of one person’s specific imagination.”
- Planet / Planet Gold by Sofiane Pamart: As well as introducing Erang’s dungeon synth, I’ve taken to listening to classical new release playlists occasionally while I work. One of the tracks from Pamart’s Planet Gold album popped up and caught my ear. I’m glad it did, as both albums are fantastic. Quoting this review: “Emotionally, the album is also heavily charged, bristling at its seams with a vigor that is rarely associated with solo piano music. Each of the twelve songs takes something from what is musically characteristic of the locations they are meant to represent. It’s rather difficult to summarize this in a few words, but Pamart successfully encapsulates the hallmark essence of these places within the span of a few minutes. There is a dreamy, almost otherworldly vibe that is woven into the fabric of each tune – this is also thanks to him borrowing from Debussy. Sometimes there is a strongly wistful, at times even dramatic resolve, which amplifies the emotive delivery of the songs. Some laid back and relaxed textures also make their way within the course of the album, making for quite a diverse journey. It basically runs the gamut from deep, introspective, and pensive all the way to lighthearted, loose, and even cheerful.”
- New book day: I tend to run three fiction and three non-fiction books on my Kindle. I’m still reading Alan Moore’s Jerusaleum–and I expect I will be for a while. Undecided whether I’ll make it through the whole tome, though. I’m on the last leg of Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry trilogy. It is exquisite. I’ve yet to purchase the next instalment of Iain Bank’s Culture series, as I’ve still got notes to review from Use of Weapons (which was very good). I may opt for something different for a little while. I’ve begun Street Fighting Mathematics. I’m using this as a little break from explicitly computing-related reads. I’ve also begun The Mushroom at the End of the World, which perpetuates the theme of systems thinking and ecology. Finally, I’m still reviewing notes from Cynthia Haven’s Conversations with Rene Girard. I’ve read a fair bit of Girard’s work at this point, but I’m going to try Wolfgang Palaver’s introduction/overview of Girard’s work anyway.
- Why it’s as hard to escape an echo chamber as it is to flee a cult by C Thi Nguyen: Quote: “And, in many ways, echo-chamber members are following reasonable and rational procedures of enquiry. They’re engaging in critical reasoning. They’re questioning, they’re evaluating sources for themselves, they’re assessing different pathways to information. They are critically examining those who claim expertise and trustworthiness, using what they already know about the world. It’s simply that their basis for evaluation – their background beliefs about whom to trust – are radically different. They are not irrational, but systematically misinformed about where to place their trust.”
- The status of the wholes 2020: My second in-depth annual review. I evaluated 2020 using the same structure as the first Status of the wholes: breathe, read, write, move, play and speak. This year’s SOTW, as well as being significantly longer, ended with seven questions. As I say at the top of the post, this will likely be the only post from me for a while.
- Boilerplate Advice by Venkatesh Rao: Quote: “A life entirely lived in the light column would actually be kinda a sucky life. You have to dip enough into the dark column to get a taste of what that’s like, and a visceral sense of why the two columns are labeled light and dark. If you stay entirely on the straight and narrow path of light, you’re probably set up for a different kind of failure. Don’t be a Straight A’s student of life aiming for a 4.0. That’s not the spirit of mediocrity. This boilerplate advice is best followed with mediocre conscientiousness.”
I also checked out the Ribbonfarm Extended Universe Annual Roundup. It’s fun to see someone like Venkat’s body of work compressed and put in one place. Also worth noting that he’s seeking maker- and fiction-related submissions for 2021.
The Magnificent Seven #26: Ice Stupas – 17/01/21
- The Ice Stupa Project: Can human ingenuity address increasingly extreme climate change events faster than those events occur? I don’t know, but projects like this make me a little more hopeful. I recommend watching the video. Else…
Quote: “The idea is very simple and needs no pumps or power. We all know that water maintains its level. Therefore water piped from 60m upstream would easily rise close to 60m up from ground when it reaches the village. For simplicity we can imagine that the pipe is mounted on a mobile-phone tower of that height, and then it is made to fall from that height in cold Ladakhi winter nights when it is -30 to -50°C outside (with wind chill factor). The water would freeze by the time it reaches the ground and slowly form a huge cone or Ice Stupa roughly 30 to 50m high. In reality we won’t even need a tower structure since we can let the piped water first freeze at the ground level and then mount higher meter by meter as the thickness of the ice grows, finally reaching close to the height of the source. The idea is also to conserve this tower of ice as long into the summer as possible so that as it melts, it feeds the fields until the real glacial melt waters start flowing in June. Since these ice cones extend vertically upwards towards the sun, they receive fewer of the sun’s rays per the volume of water stored; hence, they will take much longer to melt compared to an artificial glacier of the same volume formed horizontally on a flat surface.”
- Work Cycles: This week I adopted something that has been on my radar for a while: Ultraworking’s work cycles. Work cycles involve a short work session sandwiched between a rapid planning and review session, and followed by a break. I’ve opted for the standard 30 minutes on/10 minutes off. There’s some additional complications that can be built-in (nesting cycles within a larger prep and debrief structure, accountability practices) but I’ve ignored them for now. Currently, I’m using a large percentage of the breaks to do some Original Strength resets, mess around with a kettlebell I keep behind me, or roll around on the floor.
- 10 Conflicts to Watch in 2021 by Robert Malley: Quote: “The last of 2020’s legacies may be the most ominous. The final months of the year grievously injured that favorite adage of diplomats and peacemakers – that there is no military solution to political conflict. Tell that to Armenians, forced in the face of superior Azerbaijani firepower to relinquish land they had held for a quarter-century; to Ethiopia’s Tigrayans, whose leadership promised prolonged resistance against advancing federal troops only to see those forces ensconced in the regional capital of Mekelle within days. Tell that, for that matter, to the Rohingya forced to flee Myanmar in 2017; to Palestinians, who have remained refugees or under occupation since the 1967 Arab defeat; or to the Sahrawi people whose aspirations to self-determination have been snuffed out by Moroccan troops and a transactional U.S. president, to mention only a handful of recent conflicts seemingly resolved by force.”
- Technology Holy Wars are Coordination Problems by Gwern Branwen: I finally got around to reading some of Gwern’s work. I settled on this because it’s recent. I’ll likely poke around and explore more, though.
Quote: “The flip side of bitrot is what we might call bitcreep: because there is only so much time and energy to go around, a system which avoids bitrot will also experience ‘bitcreep’, where other programs begin to ‘bitrot’ in that they increasingly assume, depend, and are tested only with that system, and that gradually creeps through the ecosystem. In a system with heavy bitcreep, getting things done in any way other than the dominant way means thrashing around in what is not so much a ‘Turing tarpit’ as a La Brea tarpit, diverting new programs towards it. It becomes a black hole, bending space around it; once a program has built in enough implicit and explicit dependencies, it has passed the event horizon, and it can no longer escape (because it would be easier to rewrite the program from scratch). And because the alternatives are not being used, they are not getting maintained, which means that as bitcreep spreads, anyone interacting with older programs in a way that used to work will discover their program has suffered bitrot, without having changed at all; all past investments are jeopardized, rotting away invisibly. (This suggests there are two evolutionary strategies for systems: to be so simple that no one would replace them, and to be so complex no one could replace them.)””
- Epistemic FOMO by Dr. Rachel Fraser: Quote: “Muirhead and Rosenblum are not starry-eyed ingenues: they know that political parties are often power-hungry factionalists. Nonetheless, parties play a crucial democratic role, for they embed the ideology of legitimate opposition within the frenzy of political struggle; thus, in our political context, to attack the institution of the political party is to attack the possibility of legitimate opposition to the ruler. Without political parties, Muirhead and Rosenblum argue, democracy takes on a radically anti-pluralist form: ‘The one homogenous “true” people stand behind their leader without the party as an intermediary institution.’ Parties are thus, for all their flaws, the unlikely guarantors of political pluralism: by mediating between a populace and government they ‘translate the pluralism of society into organised political conflict’. Without an institution to affect this translation, political conflict becomes illegible except as sedition. The decoupling of treason from political conflict is foundational to democratic politics; and parties act as a wedge, cleaving the two apart. They make it possible to oppose a regime without being made a traitor. Contemporary conspiracism tries to undo this decoupling — ‘Lock her up’, it says.”
- Kludges: This week I learned about kludges: “…a workaround or quick-and-dirty solution that is clumsy, inelegant, inefficient, difficult to extend and hard to maintain.” The linked Wikipedia page has a good example of a large scale kludge (or kluge); a collapsed bridge made usable. The term itself has debated origins, as I found from The Appropriately Messy Etymology of ‘Kluge’. The following quote reminded me of Gwern’s evolutionary strategies for systems, cited above… “Arbesman also quotes Stewart Brand, the creator of the Whole Earth Catalog, who describes the kluginess of 21st-century life thusly: “Typically, outdated legacy systems make themselves so essential over the years that no one can contemplate the prolonged trauma of replacing them, and they cannot be fixed completely because the problems are too complexly embedded and there is no one left who understand the whole system.””
For more fun words and phrases–such as Godzillagram, leaky heap and baggy pantsing–check out Eric Raymond’s Jargon File.
- When Photographers Get Too Close, Wildlife Pays the Price by Annie Roth: Whilst working, I keep a pretty picture from Unsplash open in a browser tab. I have dual screens, one for direct work and one for comms–emails, Slack, calendar etc. The Unsplash image sits open on the comms screen. It’s much more pleasant that an email inbox. A few days ago, I had an image of a shark underwater loaded up. Which reminded me of Ocean Ramsey’s Instagram. So I searched for it and ended up on this article instead. Quote: “For example, female harbor seals have been known to abandon their pups if their haulout sites are disturbed. Similarly, Atlantic puffins may discard their eggs if disturbed while nesting. For nomadic species, such as caribou and manatees, even one disturbance can cause them to leave safe areas and venture into dangerous territories. And in many parts of the world, animal control agencies are required to euthanize any animal, regardless of whether it is captive or wild, that attacks a human—even if the attack was provoked. In the end, whether an animal is harassed or habituated because of ignorance or willful disregard or in the name of raising awareness, it’s the animal that pays the price.”
The Magnificent Seven #25: Back-of-the-Envelope Calculations – 10/01/21
- How to make back-of-the-envelope calculations by Ron Milo and Rob Phillips: From Cell Biology by the Numbers “…if we wish to estimate the length of an airplane wing on a jumbo jet, we can begin with “is it bigger than 1 m?”. Yes. “Is it bigger than 5 m?” Yes. “Is it bigger than 10 m?” I think so but am not sure. So we take 5 m as our lower bound. Now the other end, “is it smaller than 50 m?” Yes. “Is it smaller than 25 m?” I think so but am not sure. So we take 50 m as our upper bound. Using 5 m and 50 m as our lower and upper bounds, we then estimate the wing size as √5mx50m ≈ 15 m, the approximate square root of 250 m2. If we had been a bit more bold, we could have used 10 m as our lower bound with the result that our estimate for the length of the wing is ≈22 m. In both cases we are accurate to within a factor of 2 compared with the actual value, well within the target range of values we expect from “order-of-magnitude biology”.”
- Cognitive bias cheat sheet: I revisited this article due to an in-progress end-of-year review post. I’m not sure how solid the foundations of the included biases now are–see the replication crisis–but this article is a good starting-point/reference for exploration of human cognition.
- Your ‘Surge Capacity’ is Depleted: Feeling like everything is out of control? That’s because it is. And it’s okay to feel utterly depressed/burned-out/panicked/sad as a result. Quote: ““This is an unprecedented disaster for most of us that is profound in its impact on our daily lives,” says Masten. But it’s different from a hurricane or tornado where you can look outside and see the damage. The destruction is, for most people, invisible and ongoing. So many systems aren’t working as they normally do right now, which means radical shifts in work, school, and home life that almost none of us have experience with. Even those who have worked in disaster recovery or served in the military are facing a different kind of uncertainty right now. “I think we maybe underestimate how severe the adversity is and that people may be experiencing a normal reaction to a pretty severe and ongoing, unfolding, cascading disaster,” Masten says. “It’s important to recognize that it’s normal in a situation of great uncertainty and chronic stress to get exhausted and to feel ups and downs, to feel like you’re depleted or experience periods of burnout.””
- Nanopore DNA Sequencing: Yes, progress is real. Real-time DNA sequencing is now trickling down to near consumer level. I’ve wondered at the effects of the democratisation of simulation tech before; what about the democratisation of sequencing tech? (Also worth noting that Rene Girard views humanity’s ability to manipulate the human genome as one of three existential threats; the other two are ecological collapse and nuclear weapons.)
- Louisiana Channel: Their tagline–“videos on the arts, featuring the artists”. I first came across LC’s Umberto Eco mini-doc. Since then, I’ve watched a few more, mostly about people I’m completely unfamiliar with. Recently, I watched Shahrnush Parsipur’s Developing Literature in Iran is Difficult, Matias Faldbakken’s An Element of Vandalismand 12 Artists on Childhood.
- Polar Stratospheric Clouds by Hordur Kristleifsson: Startling visuals. Unlike anything I’ve seen before. Upon further investigation, it turns out that polar stratospheric clouds are something of a femme fatale. From NASA: “Scientists recently discovered that polar stratospheric clouds, long known to play an important role in Antarctic ozone destruction, are occurring with increasing frequency in the Arctic. These high altitude clouds form only at very low temperatures [and] help destroy ozone in two ways: They provide a surface which converts benign forms of chlorine into reactive, ozone-destroying forms, and they remove nitrogen compounds that moderate the destructive impact of chlorine. In recent years, the atmosphere above the Arctic has been colder than usual, and polar stratospheric clouds have lasted into the spring. As a result, ozone levels have been decreasing.”
- Cult Creation by Steve Newcombe: I decided to read this because Roam Research co-founder, Conor White-Sullivan, consistently references it. My favourite part: ” In 2005, when we founded Powerset, we realized Ruby was the new Python, so we went after some A-level people in the Ruby community. The top two we went after were first, Kevin Clark (a 20 year-old wiz-kid who we were trying to convince to quit school) and second Tom Preston Werner (now the founder of GitHub). We got both of them, and within a matter of months, we had one of the largest Ruby teams on the planet. Anyone who wanted to code in Ruby knew about Powerset simply from the Ruby meet-ups which were dominated by either Powerset or Twitter people. We then did the same thing in the ﬁeld of computational linguistics. At one point we estimated that of the 200 or so people that really understood computational linguistics in the world, we had about 40 of them. What’s the beneﬁt? Once we knew we had this level of talent market share penetration, we had almost a guaranteed worst-case scenario that most startups would dream about. We knew that our talent pool was so strong, that even in the event that we just ran out of money, one of the big three search engines would simply buy us for our team.”
The Magnificent Seven #24: NASA Prototypes – 03/01/21
- University Students Design Prototypes NASA Could Develop in Missions to the Moon, Mars, and Beyond by Doug Messier: NASA’s eXploration Systems and Habitation (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge has six categories: “1) Habitation; 2) Life Support; 3) In-Space Manufacturing; 4) NASA Platform for Autonomous Systems (NPAS); 5) Space Life and Physical Science; and 6) Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI).” This article is a summary of funded entries.
My favourite is Rice University’s In-Space Manufacturing entry: “…a parametric-based repository of 3D shapefiles as a practical tool for just-in-time problem solving. The repository seeks to solve the basic and everyday repair and maintenance needs in space, such as on the space station, the Gateway, or in deep space. The database includes critical items that may be necessary in medical procedures or extreme outside repair need cases and provides the file, visual information, simple use cases, failure modes, end-of-life information, and restrictions on use. Each part also features novel parametric coding that allows the part geometry to be adjusted based on alternate use cases.”
- Negative Utilitarianism: An old post of mine, Stories, post-abolition got plugged on the r/negativeutilitarians sub-reddit. Negative utilitarianism is a morality that prescribes we should act, first, to reduce the aggregate amount of suffering in the world. Negative utilitarianism itself is something I haven’t explored, but I imagine it shares the traits (both strengths and weaknesses) of basic utilitarianism. The post wonders what happens to stories when suffering is removed from existence. The impetus for the post came from the Abolition Project.
- Box breathing: one of the simplest and most useful ideas I got from James Nestor’s book, Breath, is box breathing. A breath has four stages. Alongside inhalation and exhalation, there are the pauses before inhalation and exhalation. Thus: inhale-pause-exhale-pause. Allocate each stage the same length of time (usually four, sometime five, seconds) and that’s box breathing. Supposedly, the Navy SEALS use this procedure to remain calm under pressure. We can do the same. And if you prefer a visual aide to the monotony of counting, check out the replies in this thread.
- Helen Lewis on how Sherlock cracked the case of on-screen mobile phone use: “Smartphones also created a new type of behaviour. Texts were now swooshy and colourful, and they began to seem less intrusive than the tinny insistence of interrupting someone’s life with a call. You could also access the internet, a great river of never-ending content, scrollable with a lazy flick of the finger. And so we began to live in two worlds at once, one made of shapes and people, and the other made of text. The most acute observation in that Sherlock press conference is that nothing could be so interesting – not even a briefing about a potential serial killer – that you wouldn’t still find yourself checking a new message on your phone.”
- Randall Rudd’s instructions for drawing a single drop of water: something so simple can be so complex.
- I Tried to Block Amazon From My Life. It Was Impossible by Kashmir Hill: Part of a larger series called Goodbye Big Five. Quote: ” “I’d be stunned if AWS product managers aren’t using data from the usage patterns of their platform to decide with whom and how to build competitive products,” said Matthew Prince, who runs Cloudflare, one of the content delivery networks that frustrated my blocker this week. “They’ve done this relentlessly in retail, there’s no reason to think they won’t use the data from their platform to do the same with digital services. Companies that use AWS are feeding critical market data directly to the company that, almost certainly, will one day be their largest competitor.”
Amazon did not respond to an inquiry about how it uses data gleaned through hosting other companies’ web offerings.”
- Double Fine Adventure!: An older, behind-the-scenes documentary series that follows the production of a Kickstarter-funded game. I watched it a few years back, but I’ve been thinking about it this week. I’m learning more about computing, programming and the infrastructure we all rely on in our day-to-day lives; it’s becoming more obvious to me that a tremendous amount of works goes into its creation and a tremendous amount of work is required to maintain it.
The Magnificent Seven #23: Alien Intelligences – 27/12/20
- alien intelligences by Alice Maz: the first piece of Alice’s writing that I’ve actually sat down and read. It was worth it. The most striking part for me was the observation that outsiders are cared for only because of their potential to be re-absorbed as insiders. There’s more than half a truth in that idea.
Quote: “those who exist outside of institutions are ghosts. most discussion, whether compassionate or demonizing, of groups at the margins—homeless, neets, illegal immigrants, the “potentially” criminal and “untreated” insane—centers around how they may be sorted back into institutions and which ones they belong in”
- When life was literally full of crap by Jason Crawford: A post about the use of excrement in the different ages of society. Little things like plumbing are, truly, quite miraculous.
- Joining Apple 40 years Ago by Jean-Louis Gassee: A little Apple history. Quote: “Even if the Mac no longer dominates Apple’s financials — that ended in 2006 when the iPod became Apple’s number one revenue maker — it endures as an iconic product, one that I and many others are sentimentally and practically attached to. The advent of Macs powered by Apple Silicon is a significant milestone along Apple’s road to complete vertical integration that began decades ago… In 1985, Apple engineer Sam Holland convinced us to develop our own 4-processor CPU chip to power future Macs. This was to be done in collaboration with AT&T Microelectronics and led us to buy a Cray supercomputer on which to simulate the future world-beating Mac CPU. Although the project never panned out, it wasn’t entirely a failure: The idea that the Mac could be vertically integrated all the way down to the silicon manifested itself in the 2008 acquisition of Palo Alto Semiconductor, which led to the development of a line of best-in-class iPhone processors, and now MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptops running on Apple Silicon M1 SoCs.”
- Why software ends up complex by Alex Gaynor: Quote: “Every feature request has a constituency – some group who wants it implemented, because they benefit from it. Simplicity does not have a constituency in the same way, it’s what economists call a non-excludable good – everyone benefits from it. This means that supporters can always point to concrete benefits to their specific use cases, while detractors claim far more abstract drawbacks. The result is that objectors to any given feature addition tend to be smaller in number and more easily ignored. Leading to constant addition of features, and subtraction of simplicity.”
- Thinking in Systems by Donella H. Meadows: I finished this a week or so ago. I have yet to review my highlights, but I can definitely say that it’s been a good read. One that has given me the seeds of a language and the basis for a different approach to my spheres of activity.
- The Great Conjunction: A high in a 2020 full of not-so-highs. Unfortunately, where I live, we weren’t able to see the GC. But there are plenty of great visuals spread around the net. If you need a break from this reality, take a moment to look out into the universe at large.
- EU vs EU-UK Trade Agreement Infographic: Quite depressing stuff. Fortunately, as many people have pointed out, the start of the UK’s estrangement from the EU is also the start of its journey towards membership. Multiple generations have been stripped of many rights and much potential; that won’t be forgotten. In the meantime, the best thing us residents of Little Britain can do is to resist the brew of hatred, spitefulness and incompetence that is in danger of becoming the UK’s chief export, and oppose it with stances of compassion and courage.
The Magnificent Seven #22: Israel Galván – 20/12/20
- Israel Galván: From a young age, I’ve been active and movement-focused. Now, I consistently try to expand my movement-related inputs. Not just kettlebell masters and Brazilian jiu-jitsu phenoms. Flamenco dancers, too…
Galván is a flamenco dancer and choreographer. I learned about him through the Netflix documentary, Move. Each episode tells the story of a dance tradition through the lens of an individual deeply embedded within it. In an episode I watched this weekend, Galván, especially whilst dancing in a coffin and performing in Sevilla’s most prestigious bull-ring, is mesmerising.
- Floating Signifier: Startups attempt to find product-market fit. Social causes must search for a “floating signifier”– or pre-frontal-cortex-movement fit.
Quote: “For activists, a well-crafted floating signifier can be a powerful tool for catalyzing broad-based action. Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatistas, for example, deployed the concept of the floating signifier masterfully. Marcos described the masks the Zapatistas wore as a mirror in which all who struggle for a better world can see themselves. The Zapatistas’ iconic black balaclava was not just a necessity for personal security, but became a powerful statement of unity and universality. “Behind our black mask,” they declared, “we are you.”” H/t to Samuel Ludford.
- On the Medium of Thought by Andres Gomez Emilsson: This post explores the idea that the medium of thought both constrains and enables its content. Bias is never eradicated. It is just swapped for something different, both qualitatively and quantitively.
I was also intrigued by the idea that truth requires a helper, a hand-maiden to be able to stumble into the light. It rarely walks unaided. Perhaps, a more apt expression is that truth requires a cloak, woven of story or power, to be recognised by an observer.
Quote: “Next time you have an intense emotion, introspect on the ways it influences your imagination. In a great mood, do you not have, perhaps, much more access to soft, regular, and manageable textures of thought you can use as building blocks for your field of imagination? And when in a depressive mood, aren’t thoughts, perhaps, more likely to be built out of nauseous, gloomy, starved, or self-loathing building blocks? It is thus why in a sense it is so hard, for the most part, to “think yourself out” of a depression. This is because the thoughts themselves are the ways the depression expresses itself!”
- Skipping Ropes: Most of the time, my warm-ups follow the GPS protocol: general, person and session-specific. Ten minutes of general activity followed by a few rounds of activity that target specific issues (e.g. tight hips), and then some practice of movements that relate to the session at hand. However, it’s winter here in the UK, which makes warming up for at-home movement sessions more problematic. Especially the general part. Fortunately, I have a skipping rope. Given a meter or two squared and a rope, I can get hot, even in near-zero temperatures. More importantly, habitual use of a jump rope seems to do good things for the brain. It’s a mental challenge as much as a physical one.
- The Strategic Theory of John Boyd by Tasshin Fogleman: a useful introduction to some of the key components of Boydian thought: tempo, morality, leveraging people, ideas and hardware (“in that order”) to disrupt systems, and interconnectedness. The last is the most important. If you like Tasshin’s overview, check out Venkatesh Rao’s Use and Misuse of the OODA Loop or Robert Coram’s biography of John Boyd, The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War.
- Meta-rationality: An introduction by David Chapman: I’m not a rationalist, either in the Less Wrong sense or in the sense that Chapman describes here–possessing mastery within a technical domain. But I have heard of meta-rationality, as a concept, being thrown around. Now, I have a marginally better understanding of what it is.
Quote: “They meta-rationalists produce these insights by investigating the relationship between a system of technical rationality and its context. The context includes a specific situation in which rationality is applied, the purposes for which it is used, the social dynamics of its use, and other rational systems that might also be brought to bear. This work operates not within a system of technical rationality, but around, above, and then on the system.”
- Pictures of the Year 2020: A heart-rending tour through 2020. If I had to summarise the collection in a single word (a foolish task, I know) I’d opt for “resistance”. The other option would be to emphasis the pain, the sorrow, the heartache. I don’t want to do that; given a choice between focusing on humanity’s ability to inflict or endure pain versus its ability to show strength in response to it, I’ve learned to choose the latter.
The Magnificent Seven #21: Future Frontiers – 13/12/20
- Future Frontiers by The Yak Collective: YC’s latest public project is live. Nanosatellites, consumer-priced submersibles, human hibernation; exciting stuff.
Quote: “In the 14th century, around the time of the Black Death, citizen explorers like Ibn Battuta and Petrarch planted the earliest seeds of democratized exploration culture. The Age of Exploration witnessed the voyages of explorers like Zheng He, Columbus, Vasco da Gama, and Ferdinand Magellan, who relied on royal patronage. By the 20th century, exploration had become accessible to the educated middle classes, and institutional and state support catalyzed a vast increase in exploratory activity, culminating in the space programs of the U.S. and USSR, as well as efforts like the International Geophysical Year (1957–1958).
While mass participation in frontier exploratory activities is still not a reality, more, and cheaper, enabling technologies are appearing than at any time in history.
In the wake of Covid19, could an era of democratized access to frontiers be the key to a renewed sense of larger purpose in the universe for humanity? In this continuously evolving project, members of the Yak Collective ponder our future as an exploratory species.”
- Now Reading: Probably my last Now Reading thread of 2020. It includes three fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, contemporary) and three non-fiction (computing-focused, human-focused and systems/ecology-focused) books. I was going to say which I’m most excited about digging into but I realised I’m pretty psyched about them all.
- How Dictators Control the Internet by Eda Keremoğlu and Nils B. Weidmann: A quick introduction to the basics of internet-interference run by autocratic regimes that, in turn, reminded me of Kranzberg’s first law of technology.
My favourite part: “Moreover, particular digital tactics employed by the government may even backfire and undermine autocrats’ rule in the long run. When autocrats exclude certain groups from the internet, they establish new “digital divides” in the population, which in turn could increase grievances and motivations to mobilize.”
This, I think, hints at a trend towards decentralisation that is already underway. See Venkatesh Rao’s Extended Internet Universe. The result is (or will be) a more secure and private internet, achieved by unconventional means–not by encryption or tricksy identity-protection mechanisms, but by the sheer mass of fragmented presences and distributed activity. Think of the security and relative solace achieved by the implausibility of computational demands associated with brute force hacking. Now apply that to social interactions across the web.
- Britain’s Warfare State by Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis: London is already renowned as the most illustrious jewel of the world’s launderettes. Just ask Roberto Saviano, George Monbiot or Nicholas Wilson. Dirty money is dutifully cleansed with the aide of prestigious professional services firms, banks and property conglomerates. Worse, the playbook of innovative accounting and legal acrobatics grows each day, remaining impenetrable to those with the will to decipher it and ignored by those with the capacityto intervene but not the motivation. With Brexit imminent, there’s an opportunity to further extend the popular laundering services. There’s also seems to be designs to cement the UK as the world’s foremost no-questions-asked arms dealer for the wealthy and murderous.
- How Ertugrul resurrected the Muslim imagination by Azad Essa: “Dirilis: Ertugrul (Resurrection: Ertugrul), created by Mehmet Bozdag, told the story of a young warrior in 13th-century Anatolia who embarks on a mission to find a permanent home for his Turkic tribe, known as the Kayi, who lived as nomads on the steppes of central Asia. There, they seek shelter from the elements, navigate food shortages during harsh winters, and battle marauding Christian Crusaders and Mongols.”
I doubt I’ll commit to watching the marathon that is Dirilis: Ertugrul but it was interesting to read about its foundations and, more importantly, about the impact it is having on audiences around the world.
The most interesting part of the article, for me, begins thus: “The allure of Dirilis: Ertugrul, its rampant success, raises deeper questions about the established ideas of the social and economic structure of our lives. During the 1980s and 1990s, just as the Cold War ended and Muslims became the overnight scapegoats for the failings of the West, we were told that we had reached, as Francis Fukuyama described it, the end of history. We were either for consumerism or against western civilization. But Dirilis: Ertugrul upends these assumptions in three ways.”
- Seeing Our Own Reflection in the Birth of Self-Portrait by Jason Farago: Never did I think I’d pay as much attention to Albrecht Dürer’s self-portrait. The piece begins: “In the eyes of us poor moderns, it seems self-evident that a picture can capture who you are. That your posed image, your face and your clothing, express something essential about your personality. It’s the myth on which every selfie stands.
But the premise that an image can be an authentic representation — that you are a unique individual at all — is not self-evident. It is a historical development. It had to be invented.”
- The Gig Economy is White People Discovering Servants by Indi Samarajiva: I’ll be honest. I usually avoid articles like this as they tend to generate more heat than light. But, having recently finished Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Water Dancer (recommended) I took a dip.
Quote: “The gig economy is just white people re-discovering servants. That’s really all it is. It offers the same conveniences as centuries past, or ‘developing’ countries now, but also comes with the same economic and ethical issues. As much AI or even automation as you throw at it, you still have poorer people doing stuff you don’t want to do for not really enough money.
The real disruption would be something that renders the gig economy or servant class empty, because it lifts living standards for so many. Something that creates actual middle class jobs and lifts real family incomes across the board. In the past these have been government infrastructure programs, or opening up to free trade, or allowing more free movement of people. But those policies aren’t sexy and they don’t have an app.”
At the article’s end, the author links to a more expansive post built on a similar foundation: The Servant Economy. Which also reminds me of the main issue I have with the idea that your should hire a cleaner if you earn more per hour than a cleaner costs. It points to a fundamental issue in our civilisational structure, actually. I’m gonna save that discussion for later, though.
The Magnificent Seven #20: Making Zithers – 06/12/20
- Making Zithers by Nick Sousanis: The visual story-telling on display here really bends my brain. I’m used to stories being related procedurally, line-by-line, even if the actual story is more chaotic and disordered. Composition in comic format must be a lot of fun. Perhaps I should actually read some comics—any suggestions, let me know. Also worth checking out is Sketching Entropy, a comic creation behind-the-scenes.
Quote from Making Zithers: “So the assignment I came up with a few years ago around this idea is called “Zithers” – essentially, I draw for my students (and anyone can do this for themselves) a circuitous reading path, and then ask them to “solve” it. That is, design a comics page in which the reading path follows the drawn curve by using whatever affordances of making comics that you can bring to it: panel layout, word balloons/captions, sound effects, figures crossing panels/outside of panels, background imagery – whatever they come up with. I do stress I would prefer it not to be a snake/chutes and ladders gameboard sort of thing – that’s a little too easy. What surprised me the first time we did it was not just that students solved it creatively, which they did, but the sort of stories that it generated. Yes, we had jumping figures that made the reading paths, but we also had totally novel stories, things that weren’t on their mind to create, but the prompt itself sent them in new directions.”
- Augustine and institutional resilience by Michael Uhall: I read Uhall’s An introduction to gray sky thinking before the linked piece. The talk of Augustine’s “salvage practice” reminded me of Hawken’s discussion of the “waste = food” idea in Blessed Unrest. From what I can see, this is equivalent to the second law of ecology: everything must go somewhere. It also reminded me of Venkatesh Rao’s charting of civilisational waste flows in The Zeroth Mile.
Quote from the piece: “Consider, then, the work of salvage. Salvage (verb): the recovery of elements from the battlefield or the deep in order to repurpose wreckage, in order to craft new artifacts or new architectures from debris or detritus, from rubble or ruins. A salvage project is never just about stripping down something old so as to make something new, for repurposing salvage materials always integrates some functional elements from those materials into the new creation itself. In this sense, the world is made of salvage, its elements pressganged and rewired into alien service by impersonal processes.”
- How to resist the new totalitarianism by Niall Gooch: I follow Niall on Twitter, in large part because I’m often not sure if I agree with what he tweets, or tweets about. This piece is one such thing. “Soft totalitarianism” is an intriguing idea but I do wonder, at what point does regular ol’ culture morph into it?
Quote: “All of these occurrences illustrate Dreher’s central thesis: that inhabitants of Western countries are seeing the development of a new soft totalitarianism. Under this dispensation, interpersonal freedoms — those related to sexual expression and sexual self-definition, to the actualisation of a Self created by an individual for themselves — are sacrosanct, whereas old-fashioned concrete liberties of speech and thought and assembly and debate, are up for grabs. This is Philip Rieff’s “triumph of the therapeutic”, where the state will protect us from disapproval, challenge and criticism — even if that requires the destruction of proper freedoms.”
- How the World Gave Up on the Stateless by Udi Greenberg: I read this because I’ve authored a short story called Stateless, which posits the concept of “statelessness” as a choice and opportunity rather than a burden and a misfortune.
Quote: “This meant that the trauma of World War II did little to curtail states’ ability to determine their populations’ lawful status. The tragedies at Auschwitz and Hiroshima were not followed by international cooperation and human solidarity but by a harsh world order premised on national sovereignty, one in which statelessness continued to flourish. Few recognized this fact more viscerally than officials at the newly created U.N., who in 1945 were tasked with handling the massive number of refugees produced by years of global violence. Unlike their predecessors at the League of Nations, they did not even consider issuing international passports. Their efforts instead focused squarely on relocation and nationalization: Poles were sent to Poland, Italians to Italy, and so on, where local authorities were to decide their fate.”
- AlphaFold: A Solution to a 50 Year Old Grand Challenge in Biology: I’m trying to expand my technological consciousness, to better understand what happens at both the very bottom and the very top of the tech-stack. Thinking about yet-to-be-realised real-world applications for such technology is an intriguing activity, and will continue to be so for as long as fundamental deep learning tools continue to be democratised and adopted en masse.
- Alan Watts on Death: A provocative Alan Watts lecture dubbed over an animation. It made me realise that I’ve thought about death less often than I once used to, especially post-death scenarios. Of course, thoughts of death summon feelings of fear, doubt, sadness and loss. But, to me, thinking of death also brings a little comfort. I’ve found few better summary of this idea thus far than a quote from the His Dark Materialstrilogy: “ “But now this child has come offering us a way out and I’m going to follow her. Even if it means oblivion, friends, I’ll welcome it, because it won’t be nothing, we’ll be alive again in a thousand blades of grass, and a million leaves, we’ll be falling in the raindrops and blowing in the fresh breeze, we’ll be glittering in the dew under the stars and the moon out there in the physical world which is our true home and always was.” ”
- Now Roaming: I’m ninety-five percent certain that I’m going to dig into Roam Research(and utilise RoamBrain). The difference this time, in comparison to other attempted adoptions of second brains and notation systems, is that it won’t be totalitarian in nature. I’m constraining the use-case upfront so that, if I think it’s a bust, I don’t feel too bad about sunk costs. If you have any constructive advice to offer, let me know.
The Magnificent Seven #19: The Octopus and the Machine – 29/11/20
- The Octopus and the Machine by Samuel Ludford: A tonne of interesting ideas here. Otto the octopus’ “blurring of the scientific frame” reminds me of a book I’m reading, titled Blessed Unrest. It’s about convergence of the environmentalism, social justice and indigenous protection movements. Samuel’s blog, divine curation, is also worth a look.
Quote from the article: “What, then, of the warmth felt for Otto [the octopus] by the wider audience? I have suggested that the agency of the technological bureaucracy is masked by transferring it onto Otto. On neither side of this transference are humans considered significant actors. As such, the situation represents a certain kind of powerlessness of the humans involved, a diminishment of their own agency. As representatives of the aquarium defence of its technological systems is axiomatic, so any actor that interferes with them is necessarily a bad actor. But for anyone who is not professionally invested, there is no reason why this must be so. The aquarium is in many ways a microcosm for a much larger technological bureaucracy, one which encompasses and permeates the whole of human society. It includes computers, everyday gadgets, cars, industrial machinery, scientific apparatus, the machinic ideas guiding scientific thought, targeted advertising algorithms, cybernetic motifs in cultural products, and so on. These things come with their own demands, their own agency manifesting as unintended and often undesirable effects, disrupting and confounding human ends. A sense of powerlessness in the face of this is hardly surprising, and nor, for that matter, is the welcome of a creature that appears capable of defying the regime.”
- Athena Thriving: A guide to combating gender discrimination in the US army. Naturally, it throws up a whole kaleidoscope of scenarios that I would never have thought of. This pairs well with The Woman Who Built Beethoven’s Pianos and a quote from Nahla Valji: “Our formal economy is only possible because it is subsidised by women’s unpaid work.”
- The Good Law Project: I came across Jo Maugham on Twitter during the UK election last year. The Good Law Project came onto my radar during the ongoing Brexit fiasco and because of its investigations into the multi-billion pound corruption enabled by Covid19. Since reading The Secret Barrister’s Fake Law, I’ve taken more of an interest in the UK government’s structure generally and folded sources concerned specifically with the British judiciary into my info-streams. The latter occurred because I wanted some more insight into why (and how) the rule of law fails to apply to the ruling classes.
- Your Computer Isn’t Yours by Jeffrey Paul: Quote: “These machines are the first general purpose computers ever where you have to make an exclusive choice: you can have a fast and efficient machine, or you can have a private one. (Apple mobile devices have already been this way for several years.) Short of using an external network filtering device like a travel/vpn router that you can totally control, there will be no way to boot any OS on the new Apple Silicon macs that won’t phone home, and you can’t modify the OS to prevent this (or they won’t boot at all, due to hardware-based cryptographic protections).”
- So, I listened to that list of 1001 Albums by David J. W. Bailey: I don’t think I’d ever try this, so I’m glad someone else has. Quote: “We now listen to things that would simply have been considered “outside of music” in the 1950s and 1960s. The boundaries have moved. The book does a great job of showing you the precise moments at which those boundaries changed, sometimes gradually, and sometimes in huge leaps. It explains who moved them, and what the consequences were. One or two albums are still outside the boundaries of what 99.99% of listeners would ever consider to be anything even close to “music”. Yet they are there in the book for a reason, and that reason makes sense at the end.”
- Watched Walker: If, like us in the UK, you’re currently under lockdown and missing ambient human noise, Watched Walker is a good resource. It’s exactly what it sounds like–recordings of a person walking various locales from around the world. Fun fact: I used the Holland Park video whilst writing Stay (a short story from Ss) in order to get a feel for the environment of a particular scene.
- How is software development different in China and India? Reading the comments/answers, I discovered that there isn’t a tremendous difference. Software, hardware and networking conventions converge more than they diverge. Some helpful links within the AskHN thread include a StackExchange thread (How do programmers in the East see programmers in the West?), an Alibaba article titled 25 Things You Should Know about Developers in China and a paper titled The Future of Chinese Software Development.
During this (very) small scale exploration of alternatives to the web-tech stack, I think I’ve realised that true alternatives require a doctrine-level difference in perception. A good overview of what doctrine-level differences look like comes from a Ben Thompson/Stratchery article which examines the “four internets”. But even these “four internets” build atop the same fundamental technology…
The Magnificent Seven #18: Until You Wake Up – 22/11/20
- Until You Wake Up by Martin Stranka: I came across this striking image on Twitter, of all places. Strange has more arresting imagery collected on his site, too. Another I enjoyed was Circle of Life. Sticking with the visual theme, I ended up reading an article about Monet’s paintings of trees.
- The Mattereum Big Deck by Vinay Gupta: Vinay is one of a handful of people I’m aware of who is a planetary-scale thinker (if you know others, message me). This deck represents a synthesis of a lot of his work and contains many, many things for all of us to think about. I didn’t think I’d ever say this about a powerpoint, but this deck is an important artefact. From the first few slides: “Remember, sustainable means 2 tons of CO2 per person per year, or 16 gigatons for the entire planet. … Every path we have out of poverty massively increases people’s resource consumption. … More or less the entire human population is trapped in either poverty or climate destruction.” For more, follow Vinay on Twitter.
- How Discord (somewhat accidentally) invented the future of the internet by David Pierce: A quick tour of Discord’s rise. The element I found most interesting was the inevitable slide from non-intervention to a policy of strong and proactive moderation.
Quote: “Now they see it differently. “Discord is like a country with 100 million inhabitants, living in different states and towns,” Li said. “We make the rules on what is allowed to help shape the society at large, and we empower server moderators and admins to help us enforce and expand upon them based on the needs of their communities.” He wants to help moderators create whatever kind of community they want, and Discord’s also getting better at giving moderators the tools and knowhow to do so, but only within the boundaries set by the broader platform. Those didn’t exist for too many years. Now, Discord’s trying simply to be clear and forceful about what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and to enforce those rules consistently. It’s investing in bots and other automated mod tools, but the Trust and Safety team now makes up more than 15% of Discord’s staff. While there’s still plenty of bad stuff on the platform, progress seems to be strong.”
- An Engineering Argument for Basic Income by Scott Santens: Yes, I am pounding the basic income drum once again. It is a good drum. A worthy drum. Quote: “Bang-bang design is like the way thermostats typically work. You set the temperature at what you want, and when the environment gets too far above or below that setting, bang, the air conditioning or heat kicks on to bring the room back to the desired temperature, and then, bang, it turns off again. … Proportional control means that the further a system strays from the desired setting, more force is applied to bring it back. It doesn’t wait to do anything until a point is reached. It adjusts at all points. … Right now, our safety net uses bang-bang design. If you lose your job, bang, the safety net turns on, that is if you satisfy the necessary conditions, and you may or may not still fall to your death because of the holes in the net. If you do get help, it’s temporary and then, bang, no more help, or if you don’t satisfy the conditions, bang, no more help.”
- Butterick’s Practical Typography: This is an incredible resource, especially for people who work with words. I’ve used it many, many times and the Summary of key rulespage is definitely worth the tiny time investment.
- The labyrinth challenge: I drafted some more of my novella and it threw up a challenge: the creation of a labyrinth with two particular constraints. Fortunately, I posted about it in the Yak Collective Discord, where Venkatesh directed me to Daniel Schmidt–his ProductLogic site has a tonne of useful ideas that will soon prove useful to me, but more importantly he’s a maze-master. Dan came back with an immediate prototype that will form the basis for further riffing. I also ended up reading Dan’s guest post on Ribbonfarm: Mazes as Mirrors of Creation.
Quote: “Satisfying Gutenberg’s vision requires traveling from “start” to “end” in the maze. While the start and end points are close together spatially, there is no open path within the inner region of the maze. Gutenberg, at first, is creatively blocked. Instead, you must travel to different domains until you find that the discipline of coin making holds the key breakthrough Gutenberg needed to execute his vision.”
The Magnificent Seven #17: Faces of Assassination – 15/11/20
- Faces of Assassination: A macabre cousin of the Humans of New York project. I’m including this because while most of us would understand that there is much resistance that takes place in the shadows, comparatively few of us appreciate that many die resisting in the shadows, too.
Quote: “In the years the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime has spent documenting and researching the criminal ecosystem, we have seen that, increasingly, criminal groups around the world are targeting those whom we can broadly categorize as civil society – people who choose to make social justice and the promotion of equality their life’s work. Such individuals are being assassinated because theirs are goals and aspirations and missions that confront and challenge the power, authority and local legitimacy of criminal interests the world over.”
It’s also worth noting that a PDF of all the bios is available and a paperback version is available by request.
- EDC Showcase: As a human and bearer of various tools, I find it interesting to see what things others use, why, and how. The linked site has a ton of pocket dumps and short accompanying blurbs.
Thinking of EDC reminds me of a post by Venkatesh Rao, titled The Things You Carry. Quote: “Taking an inventory of the things you have carried through your life so far is a very good way to introspect systematically. A significant change in the things you carry is a very reliable indicator of a new chapter beginning. If you actually go through the exercise, you’ll probably end up, as I did, with a list of distinct sets of items for every few years of your life. At 40, I seem to have lived a 7-8 chapter life, going by the things I’ve carried.”
- Sam Hinkies’s Resignation Letter: I’m trying to get better at appreciating good writing, no matter the domain it hails from. I came to the letter via a post titled, Trust the Process by Packy McCormick and I certainly enjoyed it. Quote: “Maybe someday the information teams have at their disposal won’t require scouring the globe watching talented players and teams. That day has not arrived, and my Marriott Rewards points prove it from all the Courtyards I sleep in from November to March. There is so much about projecting players that we still capture best by seeing it in person and sharing (and debating) those observations with our colleagues. What kind of teammate is he? How does he play under pressure? How broken is his shot? Can he fight over a screen? Does he respond to coaching? How hard will he work to improve? And maybe the key one: will he sacrifice—his minutes, his touches, his shots, his energy, his body—for the ultimate team game that rewards sacrifice? That information, as imperfect and subjective as it may be, comes to light most readily in gyms and by watching an absolute torrent of video.”
- Ārya Prajñā: Artificial Intelligence according to Indian ethical values – Part I (and Part II) by Kiran Varanasi: This one is connected to the mention of Conway’s Law (“Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure”) in Alex Danco’s postfrom the last issue.
Varanasi provides a tour of certain aspects of Indian philosophical thought and certain aspects of Christian thought before exploring how the two approaches relate to the development of AI. He concludes by proposing: “Interconnectedness of Sacrifice (Yajñabandha) instead of Causality (Kāraṇatva)”, “Prosperity of refined flowing language (Āryabhāshāsaṃvṛddhi) instead of regulation by law” and “Environmental awareness instead of Isolation”.
Whilst reading, I was also reminded of Tom Holland’s Dominion, which argues, “Even the increasing number in the West today who have abandoned the faith of their forebears, and dismiss all religion as pointless superstition, remain recognisably its [Christianity’s] heirs.”
- Wanderlust: Rebecca Solnit on How Walking Vitalizes the Meanderings of the Mind by Maria Popova: Some of the most peaceful, contented moments of my life have come whilst walking. Whilst walking my old Labrador Bailey, whilst walking our little Daxi-Jack, whilst walking with people I love, or simply walking on my lonesome. Walking is therapeutic, restorative and energising, and this article (along with all the linked sources) attests to that. It’s the opposite of “the faster one goes, the less one sees“; slowness empowers perception and experience.
Quoting Solnit: “Thinking is generally thought of as doing nothing in a production-oriented culture, and doing nothing is hard to do. It’s best done by disguising it as doing something, and the something closest to doing nothing is walking. Walking itself is the intentional act closest to the unwilled rhythms of the body, to breathing and the beating of the heart. It strikes a delicate balance between working and idling, being and doing. It is a bodily labor that produces nothing but thoughts, experiences, arrivals.”
- Curvahedra: As a relentless fidgeter, this is appealing: “Currvahedra is a construction puzzle system consisting of sets of identical cut pieces which link together in an ingenious way, without the aid of glue or tape, to build a variety of 3D structures; many different balls, cones and even more complex three dimensional tilings can all be made.”
- Down to the Atoms by Derek Lowe: I won’t lie. Most of this went over my head. I’m certainly not a structural biologist, and I definitely know next to nothing about cryo-electron microscopy. But I’m including it because the article reminded me of something that Adam Elkus tweeted (no I can’t find the link): he speculated that progress in the various sciences is due to developments in instrumentation more than anything else. Counter-intuitive but mostly right, I think.
The Magnificent Seven #16: Six Lessons – 08/11/20
- Six Lessons from Six Months at Shopify by Alex Danco: I’m anticipating my own experience at an imminent new job to be something like this: “So far it’s going basically on schedule: as I was told, “Your first couple months you’re going to have zero idea what’s going on. Then around month three you’ll come up for air and think, ok, I got this; and then you’ll try to start doing stuff. Then you’ll really struggle, because you won’t be in that happy new float-around-and-learn-people’s-names mode, you’ll be in oh-shit-can-I-really-do-this mode. It’s actually a little scary. But then around month five or six, you start to actually figure some things out for real. And then it starts to feel fun.” ” I also really liked the discussion of point two; Conway’s Law.
- Human Rights: What are the questions that really matter? by Jonathan Rowson: A post that displays the seeds of a new approach, especially because it seems willing to transcend the normal collection of civilisational fisticuffs that continues to restrain progress.
Quote: “Here are the kinds of living questions that need to be asked to make sense of today’s context for human rights:
1. In a world increasingly defined by transnational forces of ecology, technology, and finance, are existing forms of governance premised on sovereign nation states fit for purpose?
2. In a world where the law is often broken with impunity, without shame, should we seek to renew commitment to the rule of law at scale, and if so, how?
3. In a world where democratic processes are used to consolidate plutocratic power, what do we want government of the people, for the people, by the people to mean?
4. In a world of data-driven surveillance and psychographic manipulation, is it credible to think that people know their own minds and act in their own interests?
5. In a world of filter bubbles, disinformation campaigns and the loss of epistemic shame, is it feasible to reclaim a public realm grounded in shared intelligibility?
6. In a world of cascading, ecological breakdown caused by human behaviour shaped by a tenacious economic model, where should we focus our attention?
7. In a world of zero-sum economic games (own property, extract value, aggregate profit, accrue interest) and privately owned and potentially harmful exponential technologies (e.g. contagious viruses created through synthetic biology), how might collective action mitigate catastrophic and existential risk?
8. In a world of planetary-scale trolley problems, where billions may watch millions die and all available options necessitate a breach of principle, how can we help eight billion people internalise the conception of human dignity?
These are daunting questions because they speak to a new political reality we don’t have the tools to make sense of or act on. Yet the human rights movement, historically often ahead of the curve, may have a role to play in changing that.”
- Digital Sovereignty by Simon Wardley: Quote: “Unfortunately, the field (in the West) seems to be dominated by management consultants and other gurus telling stories and trying to define what ‘digital sovereignty’ is as though the general who wins the war is the one who comes up with the best name for it. Our responses all seem to include a slide into protectionism with claims that we need to build our own cloud industries. We seem to have decided to forget that we don’t produce all our own food and cross border trade is an important part of life. Lastly we do like a good moonshot and yes, an artillery barrage can do wonders but it’s a really good idea to look at the landscape before you press fire.” Bonus link within the post: Beijing AI Principles.
- Pass the Pablum by Steven Erikson: Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen is a breath-taking monument. I recommend it; I’ve read it twice; I’m planning another re-read (complete with additional materials) next year; it’s GOOD. The linked post is a short essay/rant in which Erikson responds to critics who tag him as writing weak characters. He has more posts about writing on his blog. I also listened to three interviews with Erikson over the past week or two. One was with Daniel Greene and one was with Books with Brittany–both review SFF fiction on their respective YouTube channels. I also listened to an Erikson interview on the Ten Very Big Books podcast. I enjoyed them all immensely, mostly because it’s fascinating to hear a master storyteller talk about writing. All of them reminded me of how much joy I myself find in writing, too. I was also pleased to discover GURPS–the Generic Universal RolePlaying System. I expect I’ll make use of it in the future…,
- Adapting online exams for pandemic conditions by Carl T. Bergstrom: A remarkably compassionate Twitter thread overview of developing trends in teaching, and their consequences. Quote: “26. So what can we do instead? // As I mentioned in the first tweet of this thread, writing our tests as before and using these software packages is the “simple” solution. // We don’t have to do things that way. // We can take it upon ourselves to do the heavy lifting needed…” Bergstrom also mentions Bloom’s taxonomy, which is itself a nice construct.
- certainties.append: There aren’t many certainties in the world. For a while, my list has totalled exactly one item. This post includes an addition–what are your certainties?
- The master programmers of Eastern Europe by Tom Ball: I’m trying to learn more about non-Western conventions for software, hardware and networking tech/infrastructure. Most of the foundational material I’ve come across is (understandably) Anglo-centric. I want to know whether that’s plain ol’ bias or actual absence of historical significance. If you can help with that question, email me.
For now… Quote: “If you were in any doubt about the computing excellence of young people from the nations left in the rubble of the Soviet Union’s collapse, consider those nations’ performance at the International Collegiate Programming Contest over the last 15 years. At this annual competition—where teams of young computer scientists from around the world go head-to-head in answering a series of programming problems—there is no competition. Since 2004, the gold medal has been won by teams from either Russia, Ukraine or Poland in every year without fail. You wonder why anyone else bothers to turn up.”
The Magnificent Seven #15: Voices – 01/11/20
- Voices by Max Richter: This has become the de facto soundtrack for my slowly-growing novella. A recent review gave it a 6.6 and included this paragraph: “Voices’ most transportive moment comes during the 11-minute centerpiece ‘Chorale.’ At first, Layne oddly recites the opening articles of the [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] again, but when she recedes, a wordless choir takes her place. Their assembled voices eschew language altogether yet speak to the lofty themes of the Declaration. They present the curious entity that is humanity joined as one, stronger together yet always at risk of splintering. Such a beatific sound speaks to our angelic aspects, even when the music of Richter also suggests human fragility and our fallible nature.”
Fun fact: I wrote Barker to the accompaniment of Richter’s Sleep album. That album is marvellous (and it’s also a film?!).
- MJD 59,143 by Venkatesh Rao: Quote: “Lost-decade pauses typically feature anti-grand-narratives, like H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos from the 1920s or the more restricted Godzilla mythos from post-World War 2 Japan. Such anti-grand-narratives induce shrunken rather than extended universes in the imagination. They center human helplessness in the face of larger powers, rather than human agency and universe-denting powers. It’s not that extended universes cannot be imagined, but that they cannot be anthropomorphized and imagined as belonging to humans. The human sphere is temporarily reduced to a footnote in larger cosmic dramas starring non-human forces. Spiritual tendencies get amplified, new religions and cults form, new artistic and literary movements take off. These last are disposed to take a very hard look at the assumptions of the receding age.”
- I am an Uighur who faced China’s concentration camps by Victor Jack: Quote: “Prisoners are constantly warned about 48 characteristics considered hostile to the Chinese state, which include growing beards, praying and religious charity-giving, according to Ӧmir. The aim of these drills is clear, he says: ‘become Han Chinese … forget your religion, forget your culture’.
‘[If] you don’t listen to them, or cannot recite Mandarin songs, or roll your eyes, or show just a little bit of discontent with this process,’ he argues, then the guards respond with torture.”
- Unsplash Awards 2020: Unsplash offers “Over 2 million free high-resolution images brought to you by the world’s most generous community of photographers.” I’ve used the site in my own work and often browse it to get away from the walls of text I usually spend time gazing at. They’re currently soliciting new submissions for their 2020 awards. Here are the finalists from previous years: 2019, 2018, 2017.
- MPs Against Free School Meals by Jacob Heppleston: A list compiled after a controversial (read: cruel) UK parliament vote to deny free school meals to children during the holiday periods. Worth noting that those that voted against free school meals benefit from heavily-subsidised (and top quality) food and drink in their own workplaceand can claim “expenses” that approach (and in some cases exceed) their actual salary. On the surface this is heartless. But remember, this takes place in a state whose capital is mostly owned by sheikhs, hereditary aristocrats and organised crime syndicates, where Excel spreadsheets and deliberately sub-standard PPE costs billions, and whose current ambition is to become a haven for the parasitic elements of the financial services sector and a hell for any and everyone else outside of that domain.
- ErgoDox EZ: I’ve had cause to reevaluate my computer setup. I’ve looked into standing desks, mice, keyboards, screens and a rather large (and random) assortment of things adjacent to the field of ergonomics. This is one of the more remarkable finds from that exploration. While I understand the concept behind it, I’m not quite ready to go Full Ergo. Maybe in the near-future…
- Everything plus one: I wrote about the idea of habit formation in a scenario where everything is already changing. I also updated my About page to include a more thorough account of the various things I’ve done/tried/experimented with.
The Magnificent Seven #14: Strength – 25/10/20
- Strength by Pejac: “On the campus of University Hospital Marqués de Valdecilla in Santander, Spain, a trio of interventions by street artist Pejac simultaneously responds to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and offers potential paths for healing. The new series, titled Strength, is Pejac’s direct response to the 50,000 people who have died from the virus in his home country. ‘The idea of the Strength project arises as a gesture of gratitude to the health workers of Valdecilla, for their work in general and during this Covid crisis in particular. Offering them what I do best, which is painting,’ the artist says.” There’s a short video on Pejac’s YouTube, too.
- Ethical Life by Liam Kofi Bright: Quote: “We experience things as having a moral valence, as accompanied by a sense of whether they are right or wrong. This is plausibly a result of our evolutionary circumstances selecting for some pro- social traits, though this should in no means be taken to imply that all that results from this will be viewed to be desirable or pro-social on reflection. This native moral thinking is primarily realised through emotional reactions colouring our actions and experiences, or driving us to will as desirable certain ends or states of affairs. Anthropological evidence confirms that the precise content of our moral attitudes, what we resultantly will and do, is rather malleable indeed and susceptible to cultural formation. Once we become aware of this possibility of variation it becomes a problem for us how we may express and harmonise our own values to ensure they may be coherently expressed – and hence how we may decide when faced with conflicting moral sentiments. Bringing these sentiments into alignment both within oneself and along with other people, and expressing them through that which we will and do, is the problem of ethical life.”
- Three Lex Fridman Podcasts: Over the past couple of weeks, I managed three episodes. The first was with James Gosling, lead guy on the Java programming language (amongst other things). The second was with Brian Kernighan, co-creator of C, AWK and AMPL and prolific author–I’m just about to start his book, Understanding the Digital World. The third was with Donald Knuth, who’s even harder to summarise. All the episodes were great and left me with more questions than answers.
- Politics and the English Language by George Orwell: A classic. Also, makes for unpleasant reading for those that, like me, trade in words. I’ll say no more for fear of embarrassing myself.
“To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a ‘standard English’ which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one’s meaning clear or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a ‘good prose style’. On the other hand it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one, though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one’s meaning. What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is to surrender them.”
- Exciting/ambitious desktop OS work by Patrick Collison: This links to a tweet by Collison calling for the above. I took a look at the replies. There’s questions around what constitutes innovation in the space–paradigm shifts, integrations with a wider range of technologies, usability, aesthetics?–but I’ll list some examples… (Note: some are desktop OS adjacent instead of OSs themselves.) PC-over-IP (PCoIP) protocol; Mercury OS; Urbit; Qubes OS; Elementary OS; Haiku; Redox OS; Genode OS. Bonus historical read that came up in the replies: Systems Software Research is Irrelevant(written in 2000).
- Skyrim rendered in text by Filip Hráček: I wasn’t expecting an overview of a procedurally generated text game. It was intriguing, though, to see how big an influence the concept of abstraction has in interactive media. I ended up playing a complete run-through of Insignificant Little Vermin. Fun stuff. It should be noted that this is a somewhat old article, too. See egamebook for its progression.
Quote: “The form factor that Insignificant Little Vermin ended up with is a great fit for casual play, especially on mobile. It’s not taxing in terms of skill. It can be consumed in short bites of gameplay, or as a whole. It provides an element of chance. It lets you read a story that is unique to you, and lets you explore a world at your own pace. It doesn’t require you to squint to see what’s going on on the screen — it’s just text and a few static paintings.”
- I Called Everyone in Jeffrey Epstein’s Little Black Book by Leland Nally: A lot of themes running through this one–power, influence, money and the mundanity of the previous trio; the human mind’s ability to tolerate cognitive dissonance, craft narratives and engage in meaning-making; injustice and inequality.
Quote: “This urge to make Epstein’s power sophisticated and complex serves a similar purpose as the elites’ insistence on Epstein’s extraordinary genius–both are ways of squaring the evident smallness of the man himself with the vastness of the world he built and the seemingly outsized influence he possessed. Both of them betray a collective lack of imagination when it comes to just how ludicrously rewarded dumbasses can be in this country. Epstein didn’t have to be anything special to become a key player in an evil conspiracy. He had to be rich, and he had to be useful to people richer and more powerful than he was. The very real possibility is that Epstein was both a rich dumbass and a key player in an evil conspiracy, because evil conspiracies require nothing more.”
The Magnificent Seven #13: How Gödel’s Proof Works – 18/10/20
- How Gödel’s Proof Works by Natalie Wolchover: My ongoing stack entry (read; learning about computing) has revealed a huge and monstrous gap in my knowledge: mathematics. I suspect I’ll have to plug the gap in a more systematic manner in the near-future. But for now I’ll supplement by info-diet with pieces like this.
Quote for the uninitiated (like me): “We’ve learned that if a set of axioms is consistent, then it is incomplete. That’s Gödel’s first incompleteness theorem. The second — that no set of axioms can prove its own consistency — easily follows.”
Gödel’s incompleteness theorems seems like a quantitative version of the Münchhausen trilemma; both are comments on the fundamental limits of human understanding.
- Evolving Floorplans by Joel Simon: Quote: “Evolving Floor Plans is an experimental research project exploring speculative, optimized floor plan layouts. The rooms and expected flow of people are given to a genetic algorithm which attempts to optimize the layout to minimize walking time, the use of hallways, etc. The creative goal is to approach floor plan design solely from the perspective of optimization and without regard for convention, constructability, etc. The research goal is to see how a combination of explicit, implicit and emergent methods allow floor plans of high complexity to evolve.”
The floorpans themselves have a strange beauty to them. They also seem to correlate with the ideas of Léon Krier and other scholars/actors of the New Urbanism movement.
- Let’s hire people randomly by Paul Millerd: Quote: “I want to make a proposal that companies experiment with using lotteries to select entry-level employees at their company. I picked entry-level hiring because the potential perceived cost is lower and companies might be interested in re-allocating large recruiting budgets elsewhere in the company.”
I like this idea, even though the company’s that can most benefit from it will never implement it. First: Sonya Mann suggests that hiring processes are actually optimised for “hoop-jumping inclination and skill” instead of talent or potential. Second: even if hiring processes are demonstrated to yield an outcome no better than random selection, they’ll still be clutched tightly because humans need a narrative to intertwine with their perceptual and decision-making processes.
- Stalin, Putin and the Nature of Power by Lex Fridman/Stephen Kotkin: I’ve read the first volume and half the second volume of Kotkin’s biographical trilogy about Stalin. Fascinating works. This interview is good, too. Some standout ideas/moments… Marx wasn’t a theorist of inequality, he was a theorist of alienation; the use of the nuclear bomb as an analogy for Communism; incremental changes in the current (US) political system are better than attempting to break and rebuild the system as a whole.
- Geneva adopts what’s believed to be the highest minimum wage in the world: Interesting stuff, and part of an emerging trend in the most civilised parts of the world: raising the floor. These pair well with a Slate Star Codex post titled, Basic Income, Not Basic Jobs. The article argues against a now outdated policy proposal but actually provides a good summary of the many benefits of a universal basic income. FYI, I totally support the idea of basic income. The veil of ignorance is the key to understanding why.
- The Playbook: My second favourite sport, behind Brazilian jiu-jitsu, is basketball. That’s why I watched episode one of this series, featuring coach Doc Rivers. The segment that most resonated concerned how “pressure is a privilege”; playing for high stakes is an opportunity to be embraced, not shied away from.
- China Sells Minorities Into ‘Forced Labor’ to Benefit Apple, Foxconn, Others by Joel Hruska: Harrowing reading. Quote: “The report details how this massive system of relocation and forced labor has been built up under the guise of an aid program known as “Xinjiang Aid.” What appears superficially as a targeted aid program for the poor and undereducated people in the province is a relocation and reeducation program meant to destroy their culture and religious practices. Companies all over China have been encouraged to provide “industrial Xianjing aid” by building factories in the province to absorb what China terms “surplus labor capacity” or to hire Uighurs for other tasks in factories across the rest of China.”
The Magnificent Seven #12: The Fremen Mirage – 11/10/20
- The Fremen Mirage Series by Bret Deveraux: Frank Herbert’s Dune is experiencing a resurgence. Likely because of the recent movie trailer drop. This series by Deveraux offers a counter-point to one (amongst many) of Dune’s (and other cultural artefact’s) background assumptions; that, “Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And weak men create hard times.”
- An enabling act could happen here by David Allen Green: Green received A LOT of flak for posting this. The opposition he faced was totally unwarranted. This is a calm, collected discussion of an actual possibility. And I am not overstating the case. The UK is a country whose Home Secretary and Prime Minister publicly claim to oppose “do-gooders and lefty lawyers”. That is, the highest levels of UK government are opposed to those who assert the right of all people, EVERYONE, to be treated according to established human rights conventions. This is 2020: an enabling act could indeed happen here.
- Crime Ops: The Operational Art of Cyber Crime by The Grugq: This is exactly the sort of document I could’ve made use of while working on Barker. The Voice and the Hand of the Silent are clandestine groups of cultural activists/terrorists, respectively, and they share some of the characteristics of FIN7.
- The Duhem-Quine Thesis: “The Duhem–Quine thesis argues that no scientific hypothesis is by itself capable of making predictions. Instead, deriving predictions from the hypothesis typically requires background assumptions that several other hypotheses are correct — that an experiment works as predicted, or that previous scientific theory is accurate. For instance, as evidence against the idea that the Earth is in motion, some people objected that birds did not get thrown off into the sky whenever they let go of a tree branch. Later theories of physics and astronomy, such as classical and relativistic mechanics could account for such observations without positing a fixed Earth, and in due course they replaced the static-Earth auxiliary hypotheses and initial conditions.”
I was reminded of this during the Slate Star Codex review of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions–specifically the section starting with: “Can we separate the fact around which a paradigm is based (like “the Earth orbits the sun”) from the paradigm itself (being a collection of definitions of eg “planet” and “orbit”, ways of thinking, mathematical methods, and rules for what kind of science will and won’t be accepted)?”
I’m also wondering whether these “paradigm bases” are analogous to hyperpriors (or conjugate priors)?
- “Why We Sleep” is Riddled with Scientific and Factual Errors by Alexey Guzey: I read this a while back and found myself revisiting it. Quote (absent some links and formatting): “In the process of reading the book and encountering some extraordinary claims about sleep, I decided to compare the facts it presented with the scientific literature. I found that the book consistently overstates the problem of lack of sleep, sometimes egregiously so. It misrepresents basic sleep research and contradicts its own sources. … Walker’s book has likely wasted thousands of hours of life and worsened the health of people who read it and took its recommendations at face value (Section 7).”
- State of GORUCK 2020 by Jason McCarthy: I keep an infrequent eye on GoRuck because I like their products (despite not having sufficient justification to buy much from them… Yet…). And I like their ethos. The latter is encapsulated in this post, which touches on the meta and the minutiae of GoRuck as a company. In general, I’m a fan of annual round-ups and addresses. WordPress does one each year. Ribbonfarm does one. Others obviously do them too. But GoRuck’s seems particularly open and honest.
From a competitive standpoint, this appears nonsensical. Aren’t objectives, stratagems and trajectories meant to remain obscure to one’s competitors? Not necessarily. Enter Josh Waitzkin explaining Marcelo Garcia’s tendency to upload videos of his BJJ sparring: “[Marcelo] was visually showing these competitors what he was about to use against them at 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 4 weeks [away from competition], and his attitude about this was just completely unique: ‘If you’re studying my game, you’re entering my game, and I’ll be better at it than you.'”
- NBD: I tend to read multiple books simultaneously. This means that, when new book day comes around, I purchase multiple books simultaneously. This short post lists my most recent acquisitions (all of which I am so far enjoying).
The Magnificent Seven #11: Quarantine Fitness – 04/10/20
- Quarantine Fitness by Victor: To me, this is normative fitness–a mode of being that I aspire to yet am unlikely to reach. If I had to distil this article to a sentence it would be: Do what you can, where you are, with what you have*. The asterisk: You always have more, and can do more, than you think.
- The Business of SaaS by Patrick McKenzie: I found my way to the Stripe guides via Slava Akhmechet’s Go-to-market strategy for engineers. I’m glad I did; I suspect the guides will come in useful in the near-future.
- Seeking the Productive Life by Stephen Wolfram: This came up in an email convo with a friend. I ref’d it because of the Full Nerd Mode images. On a more serious (less jackass-y) note, though; it’s fascinating to look into how different people approach their work. In this case, Wolfram is typically comprehensive.
- Red Team Rules: I find myself referencing these, or returning to them, every now and then. It’s no so much the letter of the law that I enjoy. It’s the spirit; it aligns with multiple instances of how I choose to perceive and try to act within the world. Example: “Simple and light equals freedom, agility and mobility.”
- Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden: I can see why my partner recommended this Russian fairy-slash-folk-tale trilogy. I finished it a few weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s possible to read deeper into the book’s themes–gender roles, paganism, and so on–but it’s also enjoyable as a good ol’ fantastical romp.
- The Cartel Trilogy by Don Winslow: I’ve read a few books about the drug troubles in Mexico–Saviano, Grillo etc.–but none drove home the heart-rending nature of this particular slice of reality like Winslow’s Cartel trilogy.
- Bikepacking vs Cycle Touring by Tom Allen: I am no hardcore cyclist. But as we transition into the darker and colder half of the year, I find myself reading about two-wheeled expeditions, odysseys and overnighters, as well as the difference between bikepacking and cycle touring. Hint: the difference is what’s emphasised by the two “tribes”.
The Magnificent Seven #10: The Nature of Reality – 27/09/20
- Joscha Bach: Artificial Consciousness and the Nature of Reality with Lex Fridman: An IMMENSELY enjoyable conversation. So much ground is covered here and Joscha is an eminently wonderful guest and thinker. The transcript for the interview is available here. I also listened to Fridman’s talk with Daphne Koller (co-founder of Coursera who’s now getting into machine learning x biomedicine) and I’m making way through Ryan Hall’s appearance too. Hall is a BJJ maestro and an interesting guy in his own right.
- The Magnificent Archive by me: I finally got around to compiling the content from all previous editions of Mag7 and dropping it in an archive. In other news, I’ve entered a definite “cut” phase in my life. Certain constraints have re-imposed themselves (aka I’ve gone back to work) which means less time and energy to share around. As a consequence, expect to see a little less surface output (blogs etc.).
- Olight i3T: Yes, this is a torch. Back when I worked in security, I wielded a trusty LED Lenser T7. It was my companion as I crawled around perimeter fences in an attempt to ambush fence hoppers and as I searched a hilly woodland for a naked body hanging upside down from a tree–fortunately, I stumbled upon no fence hoppers and no bodies. Since then, I’ve had a Lenser P3 on my person most of the time. It died recently, however, and I made the switch to an Olight. I’m impressed thus far.
- The Prophet of the Revolt by Antonio Garcia Martinez: A Q&A with Martinez, author of Chaos Monkeys (which I have just added to my reading pipeline) and Martin Gurri, author of The Revolt of the Public. My favourite excerpt (among a few): “We are fractured creatures, trapped in a subjective perspective, but we are also symbolic animals, viscerally craving a meaning for our individual lives that is universally acknowledged and so transcends individuality. The purpose of the stories I mentioned before is to meld personal experience with social existence, and in this way make possible the production of shared meaning. The obvious question is why anyone should believe such stories. Well, William James, one of my favorite thinkers, and a psychologist, spoke of a “will to believe.” We are programmed to accept those stories that connect us, and our society, with the cosmic order. If you visit Jerusalem, you’ll find large crowds by the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Mosque of the Dome. That’s 2,500 years of belief guiding billions of individuals. And if you ask most Americans, myself included, they will tell you they believe all persons are created equal. Jefferson found that proposition “self-evident,” but really it’s a powerful act of faith in the face of a lot of contradictory evidence.”
- History of Philosophy, Summarised & Visualised: Crafted by Denis Cem Onduygu, Hüseyin Kuşçu and Eser Aygün, this is a remarkable overview of the history of philosophy. REMARKABLE. From the project’s About page: “I like to think that this is not just a historical project, useful for people specifically interested in the history of the field; what is also valuable here is the ability to see, by clicking on a sentence and displaying its connections, what different things can be said on a subject (how many perspectives there can be, which are hard to be all dreamed up by a single person) independently of who said them and when – independently of a direct interest in the history of philosophy (or “the history of ideas” in Bernard Williams’s sense).”
- Sky Ladder: The Art of Cat Guo-Qiang: Usually, I never manage to actually CHOOSE anything on Netflix. Several weeks ago, I did the unexpected; I selected this doc AND watched it all. Not only were that some remarkable visuals, there was also quite the collection of poignant moments.
- Brutality of Life Reading List by Sonya Mann: If you’re in doubt regarding the first of the Four Noble Truths, check out one of the texts picked out by Sonya. The only one of the list I’ve read is Rory Miller’s Meditations on Violence. The highest praise I can give a book is that it changed my mind; Miller’s book did that.
The Magnificent Seven #9: Strange Loop – 20/09/20
- The strange loop of super active omittance: I wrote about an idea that’s been noodling me for a few days and riffed about SPOLFs and single wringable necks for Yak Talk.
- Scarcity as an API by Mario Gabriele: Note: I find the article interesting, but I don’t agree. Quote: “As tech and culture further co-mingle, we should expect more startups to follow MSCHF’s lead, using drops to win attention. In the process, programmatic methods may rise to contrive scarcity reliably, at scale, online. … We may live in an age of abundance, but with our sense of self tied to the proprietorship of rivalrous assets, scarcity will need to exist. Even if we must code it ourselves.”
- Terror and Technology From Dynamite to Drones by T.X. Hammes: A brief introduction to technological innovation’s impact on terrorism. The linked books look intriguing. John Robb’s Global Guerillas explores a similar track and is also worthy of inspection by the interested.
- Introduction to Strategy Mapping by Mike Baxter: I encountered Mike via the Yak Collective. Speaking about ideas related to my survey of business analysis, he sent me the linked video. He also has a new book out: The Strategy Manual.
- Dynamic at Home (Pt 2 and Pt 3) by Katy Bowman: I’m in the process of considering an attic/study redesign, so I’ve returned to Katy’s series on building a life around movement, instead of just squeezing it in. For those who struggle with major or minor movement-related issues, Katy is a great resource. In the same vein, she has a gear-guide to going furniture-free, and a post explaining why she did it.
- The Story Diamond by Stanley Williams: Any even remotely aspiring story crafter will look at this diagram and swoon. Not out of excitement but out of fear. “I have to figure all this out?” Fortunately not. My stance in regards to this diagram can be intuited from two successive lines of the Zen of Python: Simple is better than complex. / Complex is better than complicated.
- Fake Law by The Secret Barrister: I preordered this a while back. Reading it now is giving me a despair-induced stomach ache and a rage-induced headache. Chase this bitter brew with The Secret Barrister’s recent assertion that now is a better time than ever to be a criminal in the UK, Charles Stross showing us a German press’ caricature of the UK right now, a Level 2 media freedom alert issued to the UK by the Council of Europe, just one of many instances where the current UK government has leveraged pandemic panic to purchase faulty PPE from companies of chummy companions and The Atlantic’s explanation of Britain’s imminent humbling.
The Magnificent Seven #8: Fat Tails and Boring Edges – 06/09/20
- Fat tails and boring edges: I riffed on “focusing on the fat tails” in the context of tech stack entry and I contributed a piece called Emergent Infrastructure to this week’s Yak Talk. In Elements & Components of Product Management I completed the shortlist of business analysis ideas; now I’m shortlisting ideas from UI/UX. I’m also making my way through the second of Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy; it’s good.
- The CIA and MI6’s Secret War in Kenya (and Part 2): A few things jumped out. The use of language to dehumanise is one. A “capture” mission becomes a “law enforcement end-state” mission; a “kill” mission becomes a “military end-state” mission. The second is the tried-and-true tactic of provoking (or claiming) a threat in order to justify the use of lethal force. This seems to be a basic play in both foreign and domestic US operations. The third was this section: “There are US laws governing which foreign security services US government bodies can partner with. These include the Leahy Law, which requires human rights vetting of units slated for assistance, training or equipment. But the law only applies to the US military, the State Department and law enforcement agencies, former Washington director at Human Rights Watch, Sarah Margon, said. … Robert Etinger, former deputy general counsel at the CIA, told Declassified in an email that the law does not apply to the intelligence community.”
- Guido von Rossum: Python: A 1.5 hour interview with the Python programming language creator, Guido. Lex Fridman wanted to steer the conversation onto more philosophical, metaphysical tracks. Guido, who comes across as a toolmaker and craftsman interested mostly in those things alone, handled it well. I listened to this because I’m making my way through the Python tutorial and wanted some additional context. I got it.
- Preparing for the end of the world as we know it: I don’t really know what to do with this article. It raises a lot of questions, most of them uncomfortable. For example: “Education, in its different modalities (formal, non-formal, informal, higher, alternative, etc.), has historically been tasked with steering learning towards objectives that secure human survival as well as the reproduction of cultural norms and ideals. However, this double mandate becomes paradoxical when the reproduction of dominant cultural ideals poses a threat to human survival. This paradox is illustrated by Luis Prádanos, who asked in a recent piece about the future of education: ‘[I]s it really smart to educate people to technologically and theoretically refine a system that operates by undermining the conditions of possibility for our biophysical survival?'”
- When engagement backfired: “It is easy for cosmopolitans like myself to plant themselves on the other side of the Pacific and have a grand time. Early connections with an opening China were sustained on the back of just those sorts of cosmopolitans: diplomats, journalists, exchange students, and adventurers would head to China from the West, and graduate students, the majority of whom were liberal in their sentiments, came to the West from China. But the sort of easy friendships cosmopolitan Chinese formed with cosmopolitans Westerners were poor guideposts for what would happen when more ‘normal’ people from inside and outside of China’s borders were mixed together.”
- Kurt Godel’s Brilliant Madness: I don’t know much about mathematics but I like reading about mathematicians. The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, a biography of Paul Erdos, is one of my favourites. The linked article is a long overview of Kurt Godel’s life. My favourite part: “Famously, prior to the examination — which generally regards the American system of government, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights — Gödel claimed to have found an inconsistency in the constitution. Worried that expounding on his idea might jeopardize Gödel’s application, Morgenstern and Einstein tried to distract Gödel from his discovery until the hearing began. According to Morgenstern, it did come up during the hearing…” Much of the article is sourced from Logical Dilemmas.
- Digital pregnancy test teardown: A terrific teardown thread by Foone. Favourite tweet: “This thing is probably faster at number crunching and basic I/O than the CPU used in the original IBM PC, and this one is in something you pee on and throw away.” There’s some interesting dynamics in later tweets as a result of the thread going rather viral.
The Magnificent Seven #7: Plain English – 30/08/20
- Plain English: There are lots of how-tos and do-don’t lists for writing. This one is about as simple and as short as they come. I like it. I agree with it. That said, I won’t always comply with it.
- The End of Secularism is Nigh: This article recounts some of the ideas in Tom Holland’s Dominion. The book itself was significant to me. I’d never considered the fact that, though I’m an atheist, I’m Christian by default. Much of the values and beliefs I hold dear are derived from Christianity. The article also got me wondering about the Overton window and how some beliefs constrain action while others un-limit it.
- Excessive standardisation of form: Following my entry into coding, questions about tools have arisen. But I viewed this observation (and the embedded thread) through the frame of writing. Personally, my writing turns out better when I begin with a handwritten outline or diagram/sketch. As a consequence, I’m making an effort to use my notebook more frequently. Bonus thread on physical workspaces and bonus article on upfront design in Agile software development.
- Would you try this? Humans are capable of some amazing things. Whether they should do them or not is an entirely different question. Watch the video. You’ll see what I mean.
- David Blaine on the Joe Rogan Experience: When it comes to podcasts, I tend to listen to none for a while and then watch / listen to multiple. This week, I watched David Blaine’s appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience. It’s probably one of the most fascinating interviews I’ve ever seen. Blaine’s enthusiasm, insight and awe; how he guides conversations and relays anecdotes; Rogan’s reactions; utterly absorbing. I also listened to James Nestor’s appearance, just to see if he talks about breath-related stuff that didn’t make it into his book. He did: turns out that stress from chewing/masticating doesn’t have the same effect on the nervous system compared to straight-up jaw clenching.
- Books with unusual but brilliant structures: Need something to read? The blog post itself has a tonne of reccs, as does the Twitter thread linked within.
The Magnificent Seven #6: Genius and Collaboration – 23/08/20
- Richard Feynman’s Advice to a Young Stephen Wolfram: I’m citing this because it has me thinking about a genius’ (in)ability to genius in the absence of collaboration. It seems that, no matter how other-worldly a person’s abilities are, we are better together than we are alone.
- Half a House: The pictures got me, as did the concept: building half a house is an innovative way to do affordable housing. I found the conclusion saddening, however: “The biggest hurdle to an incremental building project working in the U.S. isn’t a matter of safety or legality, however. Stoloff believes the U.S. would view it as ‘an embarrassment.’ Even though we might end up providing more people with adequate housing, ‘we couldn’t do it—we’d lose face,’ says Stoloff.”
- Tolkien and the True History of Europe by Robert Kearney: I’ve read LOTR more times than I can count. It’s a work that’s been instrumental in my desire to write at all, and to write fiction in particular. And when I read that Tolkien’s magnum opus may be based on obscure historical literature? I fell in love with Tolkien’s work just a little bit more.
- Strength: This is the afterword to Ss, which I published just because. I wrote about the root of disagreement and I’ve progressed onto the project management section of my latest project. This week’s Yak Talk lays out some approaches to decarbonisation. I also gave my “about” page a much required spruce-up.
- 10 Years and 100 Reads: I’ve read Meditations myself, a fair number of times. Recently, I’ve come back to this passage. “…there are plenty of other things you can show: honesty, gravity, endurance, austerity, resignation, abstinence, patience, sincerity, moderation, seriousness, high-mindedness. Don’t you see how much you have to offer–beyond excuses like “can’t”? And yet you still settle for less.”
- Slate Star Codex Abridged: I’ve read very little SSC. But with the Abridged version being available as a PDF and the Kindle “convert” trick, I can now get around to it.
- The Last of the Hedgehogs: A piece about Rene Girard, inspired by the release of Cynthia Haven’s latest, The Prophet of Envy. I find Girard himself, let alone his ideas, fascinating. He’s a small giant of the last half-century.
The Magnificent Seven #5: abc xyz (I forgot to title this one…) – 16/08/20
- Wrong vs Right Enemies: I came across a diagram from Nassim Taleb’s Principia Politica, a work-in-progress. It says that demonising “the rich” is incorrect; demonising predators, cronies and rent-seekers both rich and poor (as opposed to earners, entrepreneurs and protectors) is a better stance. I’m inclined to agree. I’m also inclined to believe that all of us need to define our enemies and, more mildly, our out-group. Just as Seneca advised us to have a positive model to measure ourselves against, it’s useful to have a negative model to measure up to.
- Surviving Autocracy by Masha Gessen: I’m halfway through this and it’s already painted a stark picture of the Anglosphere. It confirms that common sense tactics for refuting untruth, exposing incompetence and calling out immorality do not work in the context of 2020. I’m hoping a remedy is introduced later on… If one is not, however, I’ve found a more general approach in James Clavell’s Noble House. Faced with uncertainty, challenge and insider sabotage, tai-pan Ian Dunross decides upon a response: “Laugh and fight.”
- Simple Sabotage Field Manual by The CIA: Pay attention to the final section, titled General Interference with Organisations and Production. In an ideal world, you’ll read it and realise that neither yourself nor anyone you interact with does any of the things listed. Also, in line with the theme of sabotage, here’s a list of 17 disinformation techniques.
- Assumptions About Hunter-Gatherers by Manvir Singh: I’m one of those who assumed that hunter-gatherers lived in small, roaming bands with only basic hierarchies and minimal infrastructure. As Manvir explains, that’s not necessarily true.
- A Simple Plan for Repairing Our Society by Vinay Gupta: Incentivising the long-term over the short-term is perhaps the biggest issue when it comes to politics. As David Roberts has pointed out, the problem is never lack of resources; it’s lack of political will. And perhaps one way to aggregate the will required to begin solving global problems is to adopt Vinay’s suggestion: “You can look, situation by situation, rule by rule, law by law, and ask ‘am I harming these children?’ If the answer is yes, you don’t do that. The kids are profoundly collateral damage in the power struggles of the adults, and we’re using them like hostages all the time. But a cease fire could be arranged.”
- By me: In this week’s Yak Talk newsletter I wrote a speculative what-if that considered a more harmful version of a recent Twitter hack. I’ve also progressed in my Elements & Components of Product Management project. I’m now considering the big ideas associated with the software development life-cycle. Say hi if you can help me out.
- Scholar’s Stage: I haven’t read much of the material on this site (there’s a lot) but I’m plugging it for anyone interested in “the intersections of history, behavioral science, and strategic thought, with an emphasis on East and Southeast Asian affairs.” I’ll also plug two books I read a while ago: The Unspoken Way by Michihiro Matsumoto and Chinese Looking Glass by Dennis Bloodworth. Both provided Young Me with some basic ideas about these respective non-Western cultures.
The Magnificent Seven #4: Movement Matters – 09/08/20
- Waterrower: Someone on Twitter pointed me to these as a replacement for the world famous Concept2s. And oh boy, do I want one.
- Intervention by Dan John: Since the pandemic, I’ve been training at home. But even when I wasn’t this book (and its ideas) have been at the heart of how I approach movement. Breaking movements down into push, pull, squat, hinge, carry and other is a gamechanger. So is the idea of quadrants. And I use that expression lightly when it comes to health and fitness.
- Original Strength: More recently, I’ve rebuilt parts of my movement practice. Specifically, the warm up (prep) and everything that comes after the meat of a session (play). OS has a ridiculous repertoire to mine and combine to make movement fun again.
- Kettlebells: Generic plug here. One of the best investments I’ve ever made is in my own set of ‘bells. I have eight or nine, from 8kg up to 36kg, but having even one or two knocking around is transformative, provided you can make using them a habit…
- Local / Global Maxima: A hint I read concerning meditation; play the game at a level you can win. In meditation, that often means taking it breath by breath. In health, fitness and movement, that means focusing on local instead of global maxima. Terrifically hard to do of course, but it mitigates most of the downside associated with fitness and allows you to access way more of the upside.
- Breath by James Nestor: One of those books which gives me ideas I immediately want to try. Thus far, I’ve tried nasal breathing whilst swinging kettlebells and on a recent cycle. The latter was hard. I’m considering taping my mouth overnight to see if it stops me snoring, too. I’m sure I’ll try other things before the book is over.
- The shape of a story: A snapshot of where I’m at with a current novella project. I’m also continuing to traipse the disciplines of UI and UX for critical ideas related to product management.
The Magnificent Seven #3: Little Books, Feet and Slaveholders – 02/08/20
- Little Black Classics (01-80): A present from my nearest and dearest to celebrate the completion of Ss, my first short story collection. I read the first on Friday (an excerpt from Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron) and thoroughly enjoyed it. My intention is to read each of Classic cold, with no advance research of the context, and then do some digging before reading it once more.
- Wild Toes + Lacrosse Ball: I spent years wearing various trainers whilst playing sports as a kid. I spent more years wearing smart, pointy shoes shift after shift in bars and restaurants. I now wear boots for 12+ hours at a time during my day job. Somewhere in the middle of all this I spent a year or so working in a gym, barefoot, and training Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Now there’s no going back. If I could, I’d be barefoot (or wear Vivo’s) all the time. I can’t so I use toe spreaders and a lacrosse ball to look after my foot health. (P.s. get a lacrosse ball for a quid on Amazon and instead of buying a beam from TFC, repurpose a scaffolding pole; that’s my plan.)
- How slaveholders in the Caribbean maintained control: H/t to Michael Duda for sending this over. It’s a nice introduction to the tools of control and manipulation in society, but more importantly it reminded me of other locales in time and space. Soviet Gulags; Nazi concentration camps and Jewish ghettos; (aspiring) authoritarian regimes; countless offices and endless factories. Facilitating division, undermining trust, poisoning critical seams of community and connection. The context changes but the content of the playbook remains the same. Fortunately, so do the tools of resistance, rebellion and recovery.
- The Münchhausen trilemma: This is the suggestion that the attempt to prove any truth comes up against one of three impediments–I won’t spoil them here, though. I’m thinking about this in combination with the idea of diminishing returns and in two separate contexts: introspection and decision making. No matter how deep I dig, I’ll never get to the bottom of my self. And even if I do, I’ll run into the munchy-tri. This means that, when it comes to decisions I have to make–and the inputs I have to consider, one of which is me–I will always have to act with faith. I cannot know yet I must still commit; thus I need faith.
- The trauma floor: I remember a quip on Twitter (I can’t find it now, though). It was something like, Do you believe that the mind is separate from the body? Then hadn’t you better work out? A worthy shot at mind-body dualism. Similarly, after reading Zeynep Tufekci’s Twitter and Tear Gas, I thought of this article as an example that dissolves the persistent myth of cyber dualism (e.g. the “online” world isn’t “real”).
- By me: I co-wrote the first instalment of a series called Chasing Tails for the Yak Collective’s weekly newsletter and I started populating the long-lists of my latest product-management-related project. I put out a public call for contributions here.
- Bel far niente: I’m reading Eat, Pray, Love and I came across this segment: “Bel far niente means ‘the beauty of doing nothing.’ Now listen–Italians have traditionally always been hard workers, especially those long-suffering laborers known as braccianti (so called because they had nothing but the brute strength of their arms–braccie–to help them survive in this world). But even against that backdrop of hard work, bel far niente has always been a cherished Italian ideal. The beauty of doing nothing is the goal of all your work, the final accomplishment for which you are most highly congratulated. The more exquisitely and delightfully you can do nothing, the higher your life’s achievement. You don’t necessarily need to be rich in order to experience this, either. There’s another wonderful Italian expression: l’arte d’arrangiarsi–the art of making something out of nothing. The art of turning a few simple ingredients into a feast, or a few gathered friends into a festival. Anyone with a talent for happiness can do this, not only the rich.”
The Magnificent Seven #2: Tech Effects – 26/07/20
- Last Chance U (Part 1): There was much above and beyond this series’ entertainment value. It reminded me of the effects of poverty at the molecular level. It got me thinking about the collapse of the middle class and how it’ll make “getting out” even harder. And it reminded me not to assign individuals the responsibility for structural defects of a system.
- By me: In response to a surprise package, I wrote about tolerating BS. As part of the ongoing pivot into product management, I compared PM’s components to the elements of writing fiction. I also co-wrote a piece about “the democratisation of simulation” for the Yak Talk newsletter.
- India, Jio and the Four Internets: It’s easy to think of the internet as one huge monolithic block. It isn’t. As this post demonstrated, it’s a series of competing ecosystems, a few of which make up the dominant majority. The reason I ended up reading this post was because I asked a friend how much software development traditions differ in the US in comparison to China. If anyone has insight on that question, let me know…
- Dostoevsky’s Notes: I’ve read a few novels by the Great Russian, so I’m not too surprised that his notetakings were bizarre and psychotic. It’s still beautiful to see, though. And it caused me to wonder whether I should move more of my workflow (particularly charting the elements of fiction) back to pen and paper. Not because I think it’ll be as good as Dostoevsky’s notes, but because thinking on paper is strangely satisfying.
- Growing Without Schooling: Austin Kleon’s a good dude and his continued interest in homeschooling (and educational methods in general) isn’t just beneficial to parents. In this post, he talks about the work of John Holt, links to his own favourite excerpts and includes the fully online back catalog of Growing Without Schooling mags.
- Mouthbreathing Machiavellis Dream of a Silicon Reich: Not long after coming across NRx / dark enlightenment I read this somewhat old piece by Corey Pein. It has me conflicted. True, “visionaries” can just be re-upholstering the ideas and stances of historic dictators. But I’m also not cynical about technology and the developments it can bring (though I wouldn’t class myself as an optimist, either). Additionally, I read this Atlantic piece, supplemented it with a reminder from Vinay Gupta about what matters and explored the links in TV Tropes’ Ubermensch page.
- Be Impatient: Generally, I believe operating at a greater tempo is a good thing. That’s why I like indie publishing. It’s why I like blogging. It’s part of the fun of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Respond fast; act faster. This post has arguments in favour of speed in different contexts. However, there’s also arguments for incredible slowness. Perhaps it’s best to cultivate competence at both extremes.
The Magnificent Seven #1: Beginnings – 19/07/20
- James Clavell’s Asian Saga: due to a self-imposed book-buying embargo, I picked up The Asian Saga once more. I’d already read Shogun and Tai-Pan. I restarted Gai-Jin and finished it a few days ago. King Rat has started strong. The Saga is epic in scope and impressive in its detail. A discussion about it with my father also inspired the title of this newsletter project thing.
- Zeynep Tufecki’s Twitter and Tear Gas: We’re all trying to navigate a post-truth world. And a critical component of this world is the emergent movements enabled by technological advances. This book is about that. Zeynep is also a good Twitter follow.
- The Yak Collective’s The New Old Home Report: I found this report full of ideas and possibilities for reimagining work-home life. I was satisfied to find that I’d already adopted a few in my own life but more satisfied to find additional ideas to experiment with. I particularly enjoyed the segment on “How Homes Work”.
- From Payments to Armaments: this free-to-read article from the Financial Times is about Jan Marsalek, a COO who belongs in a gritty geo-strategic thriller novel. I didn’t read this because I’m interested in the hoo-ha about Wirecard (and cryptocurrencies in general). I read it because, in the theme of this War Dogs article, I was intrigued by just how far sheer audacity can take a person.
- Daniel Sinclair on the Uhgyur deportation video: Three things here. First, the video is terrifying. Second, Daniel’s investigation into the why and how of the video is cool to see unfold. Third, it raised a lot of questions in my mind concerning the dominant “it can’t happen here” sentiment and reminded me of a book called States of Denial.
- Vivo Barefoot’s Ultra III: I’m on to my third pair of these things. They’re great and have made every pair of “normal” shoes virtually unwearable in comparison. Once the toes spread it’s impossible not to notice them being squished together by traditional shoes…
- Paweł Czerwiński: Whilst trawling Unsplash for abstract artwork for Ss, I came across this fellow’s work. It’s mesmerising and beautiful and kind of haunting.