The Magnificent Archive

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Feral Atlas
    • by Anna L. Tsing, Jennifer Deger, Alder Keleman Saxena, Feifei Zhou
    • This is incredible. More so than Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World.
    • From the introduction: “Feral, here, describes a situation in which an entity, nurtured and transformed by a human-made infrastructural project, assumes a trajectory beyond human control. There is nothing bad about lack of human control per se. Humans could not survive without feral activity; it’s what allows plants and animals to continue to survive human insults. Ecologist Annik Schnitzler uses the term feral to describe those European woodlands growing up in abandoned agricultural fields and industrial lots.44This usage is well within Feral Atlas ’s definition. At the same time, discussion of the Anthropocene requires special attention to ferality gone bad: waste products of industry and war disable metabolisms and ecosystems; introduced organisms wipe out native ecologies; new diseases spring up abruptly and go global. Again, feral effects are not necessarily bad. However, the troublemaking ones have started to accumulate, challenging the more-than-human habitability of the earth. Discussion of the Anthropocene was triggered by public and scholarly concerns about those terrifying effects. Feral Atlas gathers researchers’ reports on such problems, while not excluding more positive feral ecologies.
    • Other researchers have used the term feral to convey a kind of “badness,” whether positively or negatively assessed.45,46 Instead of judging ferality as inherently good or bad, Feral Atlas uses it as a descriptive characteristic of a more-than-human Anthropocene. A focus on feral dynamics guides researchers to an approach: investigate the relationships that stimulate ferality. This requires not assuming too much in advance; the goal of the research is to find out what is happening and how far it extends. Questions of scale emerge from attending to the conjuncture of feral entity and the projects of landscape transformation that produce feral effects. The question of how far a particular feral effect extends cannot be known in advance; it is part of the inquiry. This is also an approach for watching world making unfold at the scene of the action, rather than in abstract cosmologies, taxonomic lists, or political economies. What structures of social inequality and what distinctive ecologies inform the action? What local perspectives matter—even if they are suppressed? In watching the relationship between feral entities and infrastructures, such questions come into their own.”
  • Scott And Scurvy
    • by Maciej Cegłowski
    • Quote: “Except for the nature of vitamin C, eighteenth century physicians knew this too. But in the second half of the nineteenth century, the cure for scurvy was lost. The story of how this happened is a striking demonstration of the problem of induction, and how progress in one field of study can lead to unintended steps backward in another.
    • An unfortunate series of accidents conspired with advances in technology to discredit the cure for scurvy. What had been a simple dietary deficiency became a subtle and unpredictable disease that could strike without warning. Over the course of fifty years, scurvy would return to torment not just Polar explorers, but thousands of infants born into wealthy European and American homes. And it would only be through blind luck that the actual cause of scurvy would be rediscovered, and vitamin C finally isolated, in 1932.”
  • The Californian Ideology
    • by Richard Barbrook, Andy Cameron
    • Quote: “One of the weirdest things about the Californian Ideology is that the West Coast itself is a product of massive state intervention. Government dollars were used to build the irrigation systems, high-ways, schools, universities and other infrastructural projects which make the good life possible. On top of these public subsidies, the West Coast hi-tech industrial complex has been feasting off the fattest pork barrel in history for decades. The US government has poured billions of tax dollars into buying planes, missiles, electronics and nuclear bombs from Californian companies. Americans have always had state planning, but they prefer to call it the defence budget.
    • All of this public funding has had an enormously beneficial – albeit unacknowledged and uncosted – effect on the subsequent development of Silicon Valley and other hi-tech industries. Entrepreneurs often have an inflated sense of their own ‘creative act of will’ in developing new ideas and give little recognition to the contributions made by either the state or their own labour force. However, all technological progress is cumulative – it depends on the results of a collective historical process and must be counted, at least in part, as a collective achievement. Hence, as in every other industrialised country, American entrepreneurs have in fact relied on public money and state intervention to nurture and develop their industries. When Japanese companies threatened to take over the American microchip market, the libertarian computer capitalists of California had no ideological qualms about joining a state-sponsored cartel organised by the state to fight off the invaders from the East!”
    • The above rhymes with this article about builder brain—”The Builder mindset often eschews policy completely and focuses on the macro issues, rather than the micro complexities. It is a mindset that seeks to find very elaborate, hypothetical-but-definitely-paradigm-shifting, futuristic technology to fix current problems, instead of focusing on a series of boring-sounding and modest reforms that might help people now.”
    • Both have a tangential connection to this article about the oceans of capital struggling to find a home. All that fresh-caught pandemic wealth has gotta go somewhere, right? Quote: ““The basic fabric of the world is up for grabs,” he said, calling this time “the changiest the world has ever been.” In mid-2020, he started Mmhmm, a video communication provider for remote workers, and has landed $136 million in funding. Mr. Libin said he heard from interested investors a few times a week.”
  • Life Spirit Distillation
    • by Venkatesh Rao
    • Quote: “39/ The underlying stock investing metaphor is something I find particularly depressing and anti-intensity. Thinking of your life entirely in terms of “optionality” and “returns” from an environment that you can “beat” if you’re clever enough is a fundamentally passive, ghostly, arbitrage-focused acting-dead orientation. Ultimately you only cheat yourself of your more intense possible lives.
    • 40/ Neither of these responses solves for life intensification. Reactionary retreat to deterministic personal growth actively defends a ghostly state. Stochastic personal growth is like trying to beat the “market” of life possibilities without factoring in your own capacity for unplanned change.
    • 41/ What does lead to progressive intensification is recognizing the growing serendipity in the environment, and rapidly increasing potential for more imaginative solutions to life challenges, with more intense and unexpected rebirths, all around. It is about living life in a way that you might run into versions of yourself you didn’t know were possible.”
  • Live versus Dead Players
    • by Samo Burja
    • Excerpted from a book—Great Founder Theory. Quote: “…a live player is a person or tightly coordinated group of people that is able to do things they have not done before. There are two attributes that are necessary for a player to be considered live: tight coordination and a living tradition of knowledge.
    • If not merely one individual, a live player that is a group of people must be tightly coordinated in order to be flexible and responsive enough to do things they have not done before. This allows them to make moves outside of the formal structure of the group, go off script, modify themselves, continue acting even if the outer form dies, and so forth. Imagine, for example, an engineering team that keeps working together successfully after the company they work for formally blows up, perhaps transitioning together to a new company or just coordinating as hobbyists on the side.
    • The generation of new tactics, strategies, coordination mechanisms, and so on entails the production of new, useful knowledge. Thus, a live player must have a living tradition of knowledge. For the tradition of knowledge to be living, it must have at least one theorist, among other things. An individual live player may fulfill multiple roles in themselves, including being one’s own theorist.”
  • Professional Growth
    • by Kevin Simler
    • Quote: “The opposite of growth is stagnation, but there’s something even worse than stagnation: growing in the wrong direction.
    • In a healthy ecosystem, adapting to a niche will produce positive changes to your behavior. But the situation can just as easily become pathological. Work in a role that lacks urgency for too long and you’ll start to get lazy. Work at a place that rewards unethical behavior and you’ll slowly learn how to justify your bad actions, and stop seeing them for what they are. Work as a trader for too long and you’ll start to see the world as a zero-sum competitive game. Work as a politician and you’ll soon have to believe your own lies.
    • (This dynamic — niche adaptation — probably accounts for some of the personality differences between the professions, although there’s a huge self-selection component as well.)
    • Another dangerous niche is management. If you spend too much time in a managerial role, your behavior-space will become constrained by meetings, making it more and more difficult find the long, uninterrupted stretches required for serious writing or coding. Paul Graham wrote an excellent article about this, which should make anyone think twice before pursuing a role as a manager (or before dropping a meeting on someone’s calendar).
    • Be careful also of the initial impressions you make. If you start off acting timid and small, your coworkers will quickly fill in the space around you, making your niche smaller and giving you fewer options. Don’t be an asshole, but you may want to pick a judicious argument or two in your first few weeks on the job, to show your teeth and to assert interest in some of the space around you.”
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The Magnificent Seven #82: An Addictive War – 13/02/22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The Sand Protocol
    • by Outside/In, Max Liboiron
    • Quote: “It’s interesting because there’s very little standardized in plastic pollution research because it’s a brand new field. And whenever a new field kicks off, everyone is what you call a “coldwater cowboy.” People are trying things that work. The one place in our field that is standardized is shoreline plastics because these two government agencies from the EU and the US made them, and this is the sand protocol.
    • And so, in these papers we’re reviewing, people will be like: ‘it was a huge rocky beach and we found the one place with sand,’ or, ‘there was snow, and we dug around it.’ Because there’s no protocol for how to deal with not-sand.
    • I think scientists have an anxiety, a professional anxiety, where if you can’t replicate something, the phantom of it not being valid is very real. And so they’ll do these tricky moves… so they can replicate something even if the replicant doesn’t represent their environment, because otherwise your science becomes questionable. Can you publish this? Can you compare it? What does it even mean?
    • There’s this call for standardization, but we’re worried it will be standardized to very specific environments so that places like Newfound and Labrador and the Arctic, where I work, will be left out of those standards, because we’re not the primary imagined landscape in which knowledge takes place.”
    • Bonus quote from Liboiron’s Plastics in the Gut: “The problem with universalism is that it is less a way to access timeless truth than it is an argument positioning a particular worldview as the only worldview. Western science as the way of knowing. Sand as the shoreline sediment. Science historian Lorraine Daston calls Western science a form of “European self-portraiture,” not only because it pushes Western epistemologies into places that have other ways of knowing truths, but also because it makes knowledge holders in its own image. The only valid knower was a Western scientist, rather than locals like fish harvesters or Indigenous inhabitants. Certainly not children. Definitely not fish.”
  • Dream Mashups
    • by Malcolm Ocean
    • This rhymes with metacognitive therapy
    • Quote A: “Transformational approaches to behavior change are based on understanding what’s generating the behavior in the first place—uncovering exactly how it’s understanding the situation such that it’s doing what it’s doing and it makes total sense to do that thing. Then, by bringing that understanding into conscious awareness, it can take stock of the present situation and new things you’ve learned since it was originally stored, and if it no longer makes sense to do the behavior, that’s now obvious to the part that was previously performing the behavior. This process is called memory reconsolidation, and it results in persistent change that requires no maintenance since you’re not fighting yourself.”
    • Quote B: “The effect of all of this is that we block ourselves from seeing the remarkable sensibleness of these unconscious perspectives when assessed on their own terms, a seeing which can then enable us to see a new sense we can make of the situation. Instead, we have the impression that we are simply being irrational and should snap out of it. These are deep confusions; waking up from them ongoinglyrequires a thorough reorganization of our thinking, not just a jolt into presence (which may help for a moment).”
  • Multiple blogs
    • by Benn Stancil
    • From Data’s big whiff: “…there’s no officially recognized system for storing these conclusions or finding what’s been done before. It rarely exists inside the civilized walls of the self-serve systems we invest so much time into building. Yes, it’s sometimes built on top of the foundational elements that underpin BI tools, like governed dbt models. But its final products—the materials that contain analyses and their associated recommendations—are often scattered around analysts’ computers, buried in emails and Slack posts, and built on top of ungoverned queries and Python notebooks that blend development work with final recommendations.”
    • From The self-serve shibboleth: “I’m convinced that every field has “senior shibboleths:” ideas that sound contrarian to the uninitiated, but are, among people with more experience, pretty conventional. These ideas, which are sometimes wise, sometimes trite, and sometimes dangerously wrong, might start as novel theories, but they eventually become secret handshakes for sorting who’s in the club and who’s not. When someone shares one of them, we signal our membership by nodding along knowingly. The fastest way to be taken seriously by people who take themselves seriously isn’t coming up with your own ideas, but knowing when to quote-tweet “^ this.””
    • From The missing piece of the modern data stack: “As I’ve talked about before, self-serve is a misunderstood (or, at least, misrepresented) problem. Because the most common question people have is “How often did this thing happen?,” effective self-serve is less about complex analysis and more about metric extraction. People “want to choose from a list of understood KPIs, apply it to a filtered set of records, and aggregate it by a particular dimension. It’s analytical Mad Libs—show me average order size for orders that used gift cards by month.”
    • Today’s current stack makes it easy to answer this question, but really hard to answer it consistently. The core problem is that there’s no central repository for defining a metric. Without that, metric formulas are scattered across tools, buried in hidden dashboards, and recreated, rewritten, and reused with no oversight or guidance.”
  • Unsafe for Scrutiny
    • by Susan Coughtrie and Poppy Ogier
    • Context: “The survey generated responses from 63 investigative journalists working on financial crime and corruption from 41 countries. While such a survey cannot claim to be exhaustive or definitive, it provides insights into the range of risks being faced and the most frequently utilised forms of threats and harassment.”
    • Quote: “The findings of this report demonstrate the level to which investigative journalists uncovering financial crime and corruption are experiencing a range of risks and threats on a regular basis. Particularly notable are the level of threats that can have a significant psychological impact – such as being the subject of regular trolling on social media, blackmail or smear campaigns. Journalists’ mental wellbeing is as significant and important as their physical or digital safety and security.
    • Legal challenges are clearly of the highest concern across the board. The fact that such a high proportion of respondents are receiving communication threatening legal action, some with a certain degree of regularity, is alarming. While legal representation, and the right to defend yourself against spurious claims, is an important feature of democratic societies, the misuse of legal systems in an attempt to shut down public interest reporting must also be seen as undemocratic.
    • The legitimacy of legal threats should be questioned especially when they originate from those subject to investigations demonstrating their involvement in corruption. The imbalance of power between those who have the funds to pursue vexatious legal action, unchecked, and journalists and media outlets who have limited resources to defend themselves is considerable. Legal action can threaten the journalist’s ability to continue working, in a perhaps less scandalous and more seemingly legitimate way, but can create a similar chilling effect on media freedom to more overt violence or attack. Moreover, vexatious legal action is a form of threat that, if not made public by the journalist themselves who may fear further reprisals, can take place hidden from view.”
  • The History and Politics of Wuxia
    • by Jeannette Ng
    • I didn’t know what “wuxia” was so I took a little detour to TV Tropes to find out: “One of the oldest genres in Chinese literature, wǔxiá (武侠 — literally “martial-arts chivalry” or “martial arts heroes”, and pronounced roughly woo-sheah in Mandarin) stories are tall tales of honorable warriors (侠 xiá) fighting against evil, whether it be an individual villain, or a corrupt government. Notable for melodrama, spectacular swordplay, and high-flying martial artswhere the laws of physics, like gravity, seem like negotiable concepts.”
    • Quote from the linked article: 
    • “His stories are almost all set during times of turmoil when what can be termed “China”, or at least, the Han people are threatened by barbarian invasion and internal corruption; pivotal moments in history that makes heroes and patriots out of ordinary men and women. All this Jin Yong immortalises with a deep yearning for a place and past that never quite was; nostalgia in the oldest sense of the word, with all the pain and pining and illusion that it implies.
    • It is arguably this very yearning, this conjuring of a real and relevant past from dry history books that makes Jin Yong’s work so endlessly appealing to the Chinese diaspora, as well as the mainland Chinese emerging from the Cultural Revolution. This alternate history dramatises the complexities of Han identity, all the times it has been threatened, disrupted and diluted in history, but at the same time it gave hope and heroics. These were stories as simple or as complex as the reader wanted it to be.”
  • A Detrimental Education
    • Eli Meyerhoff, Zaina Alsous
    • Quote: “Universities have always been terrains of struggle. The earliest university, the University of Bologna, arose in 1088 from mutual aid societies of students who pooled their resources to hire scholars to teach them. The students engaged in collective bargaining with both the city and the professors, using the threat of a student strike to enforce their demands about the content and cost of courses. The university, called a Studium, was known as a place of studying. The term “education” arose in European languages at least four hundred years after the founding of the early universities. The term was first spread in English in the 1530s by King Henry VIII’s advisors, proclaiming themselves as “educated” as a narrative tool to defend themselves against threats from peasant rebels who had thrown the regime into crisis by questioning the advisors’ legitimacy. Learning about this long gap between the emergences of universities and education motivated me to investigate why education arose when it did.
    • As I detail in my book, I found that education was bound up the suppression of the peasant struggles against feudalism, struggles that were bound up with their own “uneducated” studying practices. When we treat education as a necessary, eternally good thing, we obscure these conflicts between different world-making projects, conflicts that have taken place at and beyond universities. My book traces how the different elements of the education-based mode of study emerged historically in co-constitution with capitalism, intertwined with colonialism, white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy, and the state. Its key elements include a vertical imaginary of individualized ascent up levels of education, a pedagogical mode of accounting with a system of honor and shame that eventually took the form of graded exams, hierarchical relationships of teacher over student, separations of students from the means of studying, the commodification of access to the means of studying through tuition, and opposed figures of educational waste (e.g., the dropout) and value (e.g., the graduate). This mode of study shapes subjects for their participation in governance and work within the dominant mode of world-making.”
  • The Kettlebell Mile
    • by Mike Prevost
    • It’s as simple (and as challenging) as you’d think. I tried it immediately and suitcase-carrying roughly a mile with a 24kg ‘bell took me thirty-one minutes; double the expected “average”. However, I did do it in 10-12m increments (in our garden). Next week (when it’s not 30 degrees) I’ll try it in the outside world.
    • Quote: “The picture that began to emerge was that at heavier loads (i.e., greater than 40kg), strength is favored over aerobic capacity. However, it is obvious that as loads get lighter, you will reach a point where aerobic capacity is favored over strength (i.e., at zero load). Somewhere in the middle we should theoretically be able to find a crossover point where strength and aerobic capacity are equally favored in determining ruck performance. If we could test, and train near that crossover point, we could test and build strength and aerobic capacity simultaneously with one simple task.”

The Magnificent Seven #53: Strategy for Culture Change – 25/07/21

  • Strategy for Culture Change
    • by Brian Nosek
    • Quote: “When behaviour change requires culture change, it is essential to consider the structural features of the culture and how they enable and constrain individuals to behave according to their intentions and values. Successful, normative, incentive, and policy interventions require effective infrastructure that provides easy transitions from how they behave today. Likewise, enacting that behaviour change requires sensible incentives and policies that align with the behavioural tools available to individuals. For widespread embrace, the changing behaviour must be visible to the community to stimulate the diffusion of innovation.”
  • The REALIST stack
    • by Venkatesh Rao
    • As always, Venkatesh is thinking intriguing thoughts. 
    • Quote: “Just the shopping alone has been a huge education in how the REALIST stack and its supply chains work, without even getting to the projects I’m trying to do. To keep myself from simply turning this into a sort of techno-shopaholism hoarding habit, I’ve also been making myself acquire at least rudimentary hello-world skills with each bit of technology before adding the next cool gadget or consumable to the workshop. So it’s been slow, but rewarding going.
    • You’ll notice, by the way, that the scene also features a telescope, a microscope and a pendulum clock (the wooden one on the wall, which I made from a kit). Those were the three devices that kicked off the scientific revolution in the 17th century. It was the MTC stack. The microscope, telescope, clock stack. What every cultured full-stack gentle-scientist had to master in 1687. Perhaps with the help of a butler named Alfred or Jarvis. Once I acquire a mansion where this mad-scientist lab/workshop can grow, getting such a butler is next on my list.
    • It’s partly a bit of a LARP, but also a sorta-serious attempt to put myself in that early-scientific-revolution headspace. In a way, that was the last time true full-stack engineer-scientists, covering the full technological range of civilization, existed.
    • Early scientists tended to transcend modern distinctions like theorist versus experimentalist, academic versus practitioner, and instrument-maker vs. instrument user.
    • I think it’s time for everybody with the means, motive, and opportunity to attempt that sort of thing again. Every engineer at least, should have an appreciative acquaintance and amateur competence across the whole REALIST stack.”
  • Digital Piecework
    • by Veena Dubal
    • Quote: “Decades of insights from socialist feminists tell us much of what we need to know about the resurgence of piecework. In the same way that domestic labor has long been invisible, despite its centrality to economic production, a growing amount of work in the gig economy has become, by design, unremunerated and hidden from regulation. And yet gig industry representatives deny or ignore the unpaid labor and automated anxiety experienced by contemporary pieceworkers like Janey, John, Ivri, Angeline, and Adil. Technology executives continue to argue that gig work is a dignified way for people to earn money in their spare time, enabling workers to fulfill other life obligations. This conceptualization obscures the ways in which piecework suppresses income and lowers labor standards across the board. Like garment piecework of the previous century, it also facilitates a deceptive cultural narrative that makes it appear possible to earn while simultaneously attending to unpaid domestic work.”
    • And a quote from a rhyming piece titled Techno-Feudalism Is Taking Over: “That central banks’ balance sheets, not profits, power the economic system explains what happened on August 12, 2020. Upon hearing the grim news, financiers thought: “Great! The Bank of England, panicking, will print even more pounds and channel them to us. Time to buy shares!” All over the West, central banks print money that financiers lend to corporations, which then use it to buy back their shares (whose prices have decoupled from profits). Meanwhile, digital platforms have replaced markets as the locus of private wealth extraction. For the first time in history, almost everyone produces for free the capital stock of large corporations. That is what it means to upload stuff on Facebook or move around while linked to Google Maps.”
  • Open Source Ecology
    • by Marcin Jakubowski
    • There’s a decent YouTube playlist that introduces OSE, but here’s the text summary: “An open source, libre economy is an efficient economy which increases innovation by open collaboration. To get there, OSE is currently developing a set of open source blueprints for the Global Village Construction Set (GVCS) – a set of the 50 most important machines that it takes for modern life to exist – everything from a tractor, to an oven, to a circuit maker. In the process of creating the GVCS, OSE intends to develop a modular, scalable platform for documenting and developing open source, libre hardware – including blueprints for both physical artifacts and for related open enterprises.
    • The current practical implementation of the GVCS is a life size LEGO set of powerful, self-replicating production tools for distributed production. The Set includes fabrication and automated machines that make other machines. Through the GVCS, OSE intends to build not individual machines – but machine construction systems that can be used to build any machine whatsoever. Because new machines can be built from existing machines, the GVCS is intended to be a kernel for building infrastructures of modern civilization.”
  • Peacemaking
    • by Jordan Peterson
    • Allow me to editorialise this one: hmmmm. 
    • Quote: “How can the facts themselves differ? And if they do differ, how can the gap between men who have adopted antagonistic stances towards one another be bridged? What if there was in fact an infinite array of facts? What if that array manifested itself only in part to each individual, or to each culture? What if the infinite array of facts was filtered, idiosyncratically, or ethnocentrically, so that the world thereby derived was idiosyncratically or ethnocentrically unique – and not merely as a matter of opinion? What if was motivation itself, lurking unseen behind both vision and thought, that constructed that filter, letting in light here, but not there, and now, but not then? What if the facts would not come into alignment, between antagonists, until they wanted the same thing? For the facts to come into alignment, the antagonists must want something that transcends the local – even the local victory. They must want peace, more than dominance. They must want peace, more than success. They must want peace, more than security, more than charisma. That means that the peacemaker must be able to sell them something more valuable than victory, more valuable than success. That means the peacemaker must know what it is, that is more valuable than victory. It is for this reason that the peacemaker must be a man of the uncharted seas.”
  • An Oral History of How ‘Star Wars’ Became a Merchandising Powerhouse
    • by Mark A. Altman
    • Quote: “The first new toy in about ten years was in 1993 with the Luke Skywalker and Star Wars Bend-Ems, and they were garbage. But I bought them all, because there hadn’t been a Star Wars story in ten years. I would argue—and this is not fact, just my opinion—is that the reason Kenner fell to Hasbro in the first place was because George didn’t want to do anything else. With the Bend-Ems, I can’t stress this enough: they’re possibly the nastiest, grossest things toy-related that Star Wars ever did, but they flew off the shelf. One of the things about Lucas is that he was always testing things. Like, Howard the Duck was a gigantic test for animatronic technology. The Phantom Menace, and Lucas says it himself on the film’s documentary, was a giant test to do a photorealistic character that ILM would then be able to make for other companies and other movies. So, again, the Bend-Ems were largely a test. Lucas hadn’t approved a new toy in ten years and he approved it just to get some sales data. I don’t know if he intentionally approved the worst toy to say, “Well, if they buy this garbage, imagine what they’d buy if it was good.” Now in case you can’t tell already, I have a sweet spot in my heart for the Bend-Ems, but they’re also an irrelevant piece of history that’s not as sexy to talk about as the Timothy Zahn novels or West End Games.”
  • Tensegrity, cellular biophysics, and the mechanics of living systems
    • by Donald E. Ingber, Nina Wang, Dimitrije Stamenovic
    • Paper abstract: “The recent convergence between physics and biology has led many physicists to enter the fields of cell and developmental biology. One of the most exciting areas of interest has been the emerging field of mechanobiology that centers on how cells control their mechanical properties, and how physical forces regulate cellular biochemical responses, a process that is known as mechanotransduction. In this article, we review the central role that tensegrity (tensional integrity) architecture, which depends on tensile prestress for its mechanical stability, plays in biology. We describe how tensional prestress is a critical governor of cell mechanics and function, and how use of tensegrity by cells contributes to mechanotransduction. Theoretical tensegrity models are also described that predict both quantitative and qualitative behaviors of living cells, and these theoretical descriptions are placed in context of other physical models of the cell. In addition, we describe how tensegrity is used at multiple size scales in the hierarchy of life — from individual molecules to whole living organisms — to both stabilize three-dimensional form and to channel forces from the macroscale to the nanoscale, thereby facilitating mechanochemical conversion at the molecular level.”
    • Paper conclusion: “At its core, tensegrity is a system that provides structural stability by imposing a tensile prestress in its compressive and tensile members. But nature has leveraged this fundamental building principle in many ways and at all size scales to create increasingly complex multimodular and hierarchical molecular structures, which has led to the emergence and evolution of living cells and organisms (Ingber 2000). Different materials are used to bear tension and compression at different scales and within different organic structures (e.g., polypeptides in proteins; microfilaments, microtubules, and intermediate filaments in the cytoskeleton; cells and ECM in tissues; bones and muscles in our bodies, etc.). However, the shape stability and immediate mechanical responsiveness of all these structures depends on the prestress that is transmitted across their structural elements. Because cells use tensegrity to structure themselves, mechanical forces and physical cues applied at the macroscale can be channeled over stiffened structural elements, and concentrated on individual structures (e.g., focal adhesions) and molecules at the micrometer and nanometer scales. Specifically, the use of structural hierarchies (systems within systems) that span several size scales and are composed of a tensed network of muscles, bones, ECMs, cells, and cytoskeletal filaments that focus stresses on specific mechanotransducer molecules is key to how living cells carry out mechanochemical transduction, which is critical for their growth and function. Thus, while the existing mathematical formulations of the tensegrity model have proved useful to validate this theory, and to gain better insight into how tensegrity has been leveraged for molecular regulation and cellular mechanotransduction, the simplicity of existing theoretical tensegrity formulations limits their use for analysis of complex living systems that are both hierarchical and multimodular. Hence, the challenge for the future is to develop more robust models that can effectively describe behaviors of more complex tensegrities, and that can enable development of multi-scale mathematical formulations that potentially could couple models of whole cell and tissues to molecular dynamics simulations of individual molecules. Only then will the true importance of tensegrity for biology be fully appreciated.”

The Magnificent Seven #52: Strolling Under the Skin – 18/07/21

  1. 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.
  2. Freedom
    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.”
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.)”
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.”
  7. [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

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.’””
  7. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.”
  5. Top 100 3D Renders from the Internet’s Largest CG Challenge
    by pwnisher
    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.
  6. 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’.”
  7. Caffeine
    by Examine
    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

  1. 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.”
  2. 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?’””
  3. 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?”
  4. 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.”
  5. 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?
  6. 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).”
  7. 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

  1. 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“.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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

  1. 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.”
  2. 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 specieshabitatsand conservation. For more spider-centric ideas, check out Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time; it’s a romp.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.
  6. 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.”
  7. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.””
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.
  7. 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

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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 askēsisa 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.
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.””
  7. What is a fact about the human body that not many know about?
    by Redditors
    Some, uh, interesting answers here. A selection minus the spoilers… Life after deathmisrepresenting suffocationswallowing wrongtoe nail regenerationstripey 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

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.””
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.
  5. Arnis
    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.
  6. 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.”
  7. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.
  6. 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.”
  7. ‘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

  1. 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.”
  2. 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” “
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.
  7. 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

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.)”
  5. 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.”
  6. Politics in the language of uncertainty part onetwo 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.”
  7. 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

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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?”
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.”
  7. 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

  1. ‘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.”
  2. 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.
  3. Issue 16: Reliability
    by Increment
    “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.”
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.”
  7. 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

  1. 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…”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.
  6. 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.”
  7. Exodus
    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

  1. 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.””
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”
  4. 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?”
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.”
  7. 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

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.”
  7. 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

  1. 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.'”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”
  4. 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).”
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.
  7. 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

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.” “
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.”
  7. 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

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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?”
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.’
  7. 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

  1. 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.”‘
  2. 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.”’
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.
  7. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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”
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.”
  7. 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

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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?!”
  4. 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?”
  5. 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.
  6. 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.”
  7. 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

  1. The Peace of Wild Things by Charlotte Ager, Katy Wang and David Kamp:
    An animated version of a Wendell Berry poem.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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

  1. 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.”
  2. 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?”
  3. 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?”
  4. 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.”