The Magnificent Archive

Every Sunday, I send out an email with seven magnificent things from the past week. Books, articles, blog posts, projects, graphics, ideas, excerpts, videos, songs, tools, artists, art, creators, software, hardware—things that elicit a “Whoa!”, a “Wow!”, a “Huh?” or a “Hmmm.”

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The Magnificent Seven #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.”
  5. Polyrhythms: All You Need to Know by Joelle Banton: 
    A follow on from my discovery of pianist’s Sofia Pamart’s work and the inclusion of Erang’s dungeon synth in my whilst-working playlists. In The Mushroom at the End of the World, Anne Lowenhaupt Tsing talks about assemblages, the convergence of diverse entities in a moment. Typically, diverse entities operate at different tempos, and Tsing happened to mention polyrhythms. After pulling up a polyrhythm playlist on Spotify, I started listening. And then I ended up reading the linked article, to better understand what I was hearing. Quote: “Traditional African music incorporates rhythms in a few different ways compared to typical western rhythms. There is a lot of emphasis placed on the primary beat in western music, and a lot of emphasis on secondary beats in traditional African music. As the use of rhythms here was developed by slaves, the layers are also used to tell a story. Lighter primary polyrhythms on certain instruments were played alongside another rhythm (usually played on the drum) which delivered a secret message that could not be understood by invaders or slave owners.”
  6. Ultorg by Eirik Bakke:
    I was lucky enough to be able to play around with Ultorg, and speak with Eirik himself. But what is Ultorg? “Ultorg is the commercial implementation of SIEUFERD, a recently completed research project from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is a general-purpose user interface that provides the same functionality as a typical tailor-made database application, without requiring custom programming” Check out this paper for a deeper look into its context and functionality.
  7. The (Messy) Shift to Starting Together by John Cutler: 
    “In full disclosure, this would drive some people crazy. Leaders especially. It doesn’t look like “work” and feels lumbering. Makers thought it was superfluous. They just wanted to get going. It also cut to the real essence of autonomy. Autonomy for some people means implementing whatever solution they have in mind — that looks fun to work on. It also means not being “dragged down by other people” or “having to do lots of meetings”. There is another type of autonomy. And that type of autonomy involves being free to tackle a really challenging problem as a cross-functional team. Working as a team is messy. It means constantly revisiting what you understand together, and vacillating between “things are awesome” and “I’m not really sure what we are doing!””

The Magnificent Seven #27: The Music of the Universe is Loud and Melancholy – 24/01/21

  1. The Music of the Universe is Loud and Melancholy by Sarah Brumble: I read this and ended up listening to the sound of wind on Mars. More than once. Extraordinary, when I think about it. Quote from the linked article: “Propelled by a National Science Foundation grant, astronomer Greg Salvesen spent two years exploring the creative potential of sonifying astronomical data — making his code and music available at AstroSoM. His experimental compositions can convey something as abstract as the magnitude of supernovae discoveries in the late 20th century (set to a sparse rendition of “Champagne Supernova”). Another song arranges saxophones in accordance with a black hole going into outburst — one of the few phases in which the universe’s spookiest lurkers can be detected. The music of the universe is harrowingly beautiful. More importantly, perhaps, it renders outer space accessible in new ways to the visually impaired.”
  2. Erang’s Dungeon Synth: A friend, knowing my affinity for fantasy, Critical Role and epic scores, put me on to Erang’s dungeon synth. I’m glad he did. Quoting this brief Bandcamp piece: “Concept records have been around ever since Tommy put his first quarter in the pinball machine, but what Erang has done is far beyond a concept album—he’s created a concept discography, painstakingly mapped, populated by characters with their own distinct personalities, and soundtracked by Erang’s own hauntingly beautiful music. The First Age skews semi-medieval, with synths that alternately gently pipe and ominously wheeze; Kingdom of Erang is gorgeously unsettling, with windswept layers of guitar and keys creating an atmosphere of high drama; andCasting the Ancient Spell Again is his most immediate, beautiful work, filled with ribbons of synth that unspool slowly, casting spells that lull the listener into a dreamlike state. What stands out about all of Erang’s records is the certainty of vision—for all of the minute adjustments in approach, the throughline of fantasy and Early Music themes bind them all together as products of one person’s specific imagination.”
  3. Planet / Planet Gold by Sofiane Pamart: As well as introducing Erang’s dungeon synth, I’ve taken to listening to classical new release playlists occasionally while I work. One of the tracks from Pamart’s Planet Gold album popped up and caught my ear. I’m glad it did, as both albums are fantastic. Quoting this review: “Emotionally, the album is also heavily charged, bristling at its seams with a vigor that is rarely associated with solo piano music. Each of the twelve songs takes something from what is musically characteristic of the locations they are meant to represent. It’s rather difficult to summarize this in a few words, but Pamart successfully encapsulates the hallmark essence of these places within the span of a few minutes. There is a dreamy, almost otherworldly vibe that is woven into the fabric of each tune – this is also thanks to him borrowing from Debussy. Sometimes there is a strongly wistful, at times even dramatic resolve, which amplifies the emotive delivery of the songs. Some laid back and relaxed textures also make their way within the course of the album, making for quite a diverse journey. It basically runs the gamut from deep, introspective, and pensive all the way to lighthearted, loose, and even cheerful.”
  4. New book day: I tend to run three fiction and three non-fiction books on my Kindle. I’m still reading Alan Moore’s Jerusaleum–and I expect I will be for a while. Undecided whether I’ll make it through the whole tome, though. I’m on the last leg of Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry trilogy. It is exquisite. I’ve yet to purchase the next instalment of Iain Bank’s Culture series, as I’ve still got notes to review from Use of Weapons (which was very good). I may opt for something different for a little while. I’ve begun Street Fighting Mathematics. I’m using this as a little break from explicitly computing-related reads. I’ve also begun The Mushroom at the End of the World, which perpetuates the theme of systems thinking and ecology. Finally, I’m still reviewing notes from Cynthia Haven’s Conversations with Rene Girard. I’ve read a fair bit of Girard’s work at this point, but I’m going to try Wolfgang Palaver’s introduction/overview of Girard’s work anyway.
  5. Why it’s as hard to escape an echo chamber as it is to flee a cult by C Thi Nguyen: Quote: “And, in many ways, echo-chamber members are following reasonable and rational procedures of enquiry. They’re engaging in critical reasoning. They’re questioning, they’re evaluating sources for themselves, they’re assessing different pathways to information. They are critically examining those who claim expertise and trustworthiness, using what they already know about the world. It’s simply that their basis for evaluation – their background beliefs about whom to trust – are radically different. They are not irrational, but systematically misinformed about where to place their trust.”
  6. The status of the wholes 2020: My second in-depth annual review. I evaluated 2020 using the same structure as the first Status of the wholes: breathe, read, write, move, play and speak. This year’s SOTW, as well as being significantly longer, ended with seven questions. As I say at the top of the post, this will likely be the only post from me for a while.
  7. Boilerplate Advice by Venkatesh Rao: Quote: “A life entirely lived in the light column would actually be kinda a sucky life. You have to dip enough into the dark column to get a taste of what that’s like, and a visceral sense of why the two columns are labeled light and dark. If you stay entirely on the straight and narrow path of light, you’re probably set up for a different kind of failure. Don’t be a Straight A’s student of life aiming for a 4.0. That’s not the spirit of mediocrity. This boilerplate advice is best followed with mediocre conscientiousness.” 
    I also checked out the Ribbonfarm Extended Universe Annual Roundup. It’s fun to see someone like Venkat’s body of work compressed and put in one place. Also worth noting that he’s seeking maker- and fiction-related submissions for 2021.

The Magnificent Seven #26: Ice Stupas – 17/01/21

  1. The Ice Stupa Project: Can human ingenuity address increasingly extreme climate change events faster than those events occur? I don’t know, but projects like this make me a little more hopeful. I recommend watching the video. Else… 
    Quote: “The idea is very simple and needs no pumps or power. We all know that water maintains its level. Therefore water piped from 60m upstream would easily rise close to 60m up from ground when it reaches the village. For simplicity we can imagine that the pipe is mounted on a mobile-phone tower of that height, and then it is made to fall from that height in cold Ladakhi winter nights when it is -30 to -50°C outside (with wind chill factor). The water would freeze by the time it reaches the ground and slowly form a huge cone or Ice Stupa roughly 30 to 50m high. In reality we won’t even need a tower structure since we can let the piped water first freeze at the ground level and then mount higher meter by meter as the thickness of the ice grows, finally reaching close to the height of the source. The idea is also to conserve this tower of ice as long into the summer as possible so that as it melts, it feeds the fields until the real glacial melt waters start flowing in June. Since these ice cones extend vertically upwards towards the sun, they receive fewer of the sun’s rays per the volume of water stored; hence, they will take much longer to melt compared to an artificial glacier of the same volume formed horizontally on a flat surface.”
  2. Work Cycles: This week I adopted something that has been on my radar for a while: Ultraworking’s work cycles. Work cycles involve a short work session sandwiched between a rapid planning and review session, and followed by a break. I’ve opted for the standard 30 minutes on/10 minutes off. There’s some additional complications that can be built-in (nesting cycles within a larger prep and debrief structure, accountability practices) but I’ve ignored them for now. Currently, I’m using a large percentage of the breaks to do some Original Strength resets, mess around with a kettlebell I keep behind me, or roll around on the floor.
  3. 10 Conflicts to Watch in 2021 by Robert Malley: Quote: “The last of 2020’s legacies may be the most ominous. The final months of the year grievously injured that favorite adage of diplomats and peacemakers –  that there is no military solution to political conflict. Tell that to Armenians, forced in the face of superior Azerbaijani firepower to relinquish land they had held for a quarter-century; to Ethiopia’s Tigrayans, whose leadership promised prolonged resistance against advancing federal troops only to see those forces ensconced in the regional capital of Mekelle within days. Tell that, for that matter, to the Rohingya forced to flee Myanmar in 2017; to Palestinians, who have remained refugees or under occupation since the 1967 Arab defeat; or to the Sahrawi people whose aspirations to self-determination have been snuffed out by Moroccan troops and a transactional U.S. president, to mention only a handful of recent conflicts seemingly resolved by force.”
  4. Technology Holy Wars are Coordination Problems by Gwern Branwen: I finally got around to reading some of Gwern’s work. I settled on this because it’s recent. I’ll likely poke around and explore more, though. 
    Quote: “The flip side of bitrot is what we might call bitcreep: because there is only so much time and energy to go around, a system which avoids bitrot will also experience ‘bitcreep’, where other programs begin to ‘bitrot’ in that they increasingly assume, depend, and are tested only with that system, and that gradually creeps through the ecosystem. In a system with heavy bitcreep, getting things done in any way other than the dominant way means thrashing around in what is not so much a ‘Turing tarpit’ as a La Brea tarpit, diverting new programs towards it. It becomes a black hole, bending space around it; once a program has built in enough implicit and explicit dependencies, it has passed the event horizon, and it can no longer escape (because it would be easier to rewrite the program from scratch). And because the alternatives are not being used, they are not getting maintained, which means that as bitcreep spreads, anyone interacting with older programs in a way that used to work will discover their program has suffered bitrot, without having changed at all; all past investments are jeopardized, rotting away invisibly. (This suggests there are two evolutionary strategies for systems: to be so simple that no one would replace them, and to be so complex no one could replace them.)””
  5. Epistemic FOMO by Dr. Rachel Fraser: Quote: “Muirhead and Rosenblum are not starry-eyed ingenues: they know that political parties are often power-hungry factionalists. Nonetheless, parties play a crucial democratic role, for they embed the ideology of legitimate opposition within the frenzy of political struggle; thus, in our political context, to attack the institution of the political party is to attack the possibility of legitimate opposition to the ruler. Without political parties, Muirhead and Rosenblum argue, democracy takes on a radically anti-pluralist form: ‘The one homogenous “true” people stand behind their leader without the party as an intermediary institution.’ Parties are thus, for all their flaws, the unlikely guarantors of political pluralism: by mediating between a populace and government they ‘translate the pluralism of society into organised political conflict’. Without an institution to affect this translation, political conflict becomes illegible except as sedition. The decoupling of treason from political conflict is foundational to democratic politics; and parties act as a wedge, cleaving the two apart. They make it possible to oppose a regime without being made a traitor. Contemporary conspiracism tries to undo this decoupling — ‘Lock her up’, it says.”
  6. Kludges: This week I learned about kludges: “…a workaround or quick-and-dirty solution that is clumsy, inelegant, inefficient, difficult to extend and hard to maintain.” The linked Wikipedia page has a good example of a large scale kludge (or kluge); a collapsed bridge made usable. The term itself has debated origins, as I found from The Appropriately Messy Etymology of ‘Kluge’. The following quote reminded me of Gwern’s evolutionary strategies for systems, cited above… “Arbesman also quotes Stewart Brand, the creator of the Whole Earth Catalog, who describes the kluginess of 21st-century life thusly: “Typically, outdated legacy systems make themselves so essential over the years that no one can contemplate the prolonged trauma of replacing them, and they cannot be fixed completely because the problems are too complexly embedded and there is no one left who understand the whole system.”” 
    For more fun words and phrases–such as Godzillagram, leaky heap and baggy pantsing–check out Eric Raymond’s Jargon File.
  7. When Photographers Get Too Close, Wildlife Pays the Price by Annie Roth: Whilst working, I keep a pretty picture from Unsplash open in a browser tab. I have dual screens, one for direct work and one for comms–emails, Slack, calendar etc. The Unsplash image sits open on the comms screen. It’s much more pleasant that an email inbox. A few days ago, I had an image of a shark underwater loaded up. Which reminded me of Ocean Ramsey’s Instagram. So I searched for it and ended up on this article instead. Quote: “For example, female harbor seals have been known to abandon their pups if their haulout sites are disturbed. Similarly, Atlantic puffins may discard their eggs if disturbed while nesting. For nomadic species, such as caribou and manatees, even one disturbance can cause them to leave safe areas and venture into dangerous territories. And in many parts of the world, animal control agencies are required to euthanize any animal, regardless of whether it is captive or wild, that attacks a human—even if the attack was provoked. In the end, whether an animal is harassed or habituated because of ignorance or willful disregard or in the name of raising awareness, it’s the animal that pays the price.”

The Magnificent Seven #25: Back-of-the-Envelope Calculations – 10/01/21

  1. How to make back-of-the-envelope calculations by Ron Milo and Rob Phillips: From Cell Biology by the Numbers “…if we wish to estimate the length of an airplane wing on a jumbo jet, we can begin with “is it bigger than 1 m?”.  Yes. “Is it bigger than 5 m?” Yes. “Is it bigger than 10 m?” I think so but am not sure. So we take 5 m as our lower bound. Now the other end, “is it smaller than 50 m?”  Yes.  “Is it smaller than 25 m?” I think so but am not sure. So we take 50 m as our upper bound. Using 5 m and 50 m as our lower and upper bounds, we then estimate the wing size as √5mx50m ≈ 15 m, the approximate square root of 250 m2.  If we had been a bit more bold, we could have used 10 m as our lower bound with the result that our estimate for the length of the wing is ≈22 m. In both cases we are accurate to within a factor of 2 compared with the actual value, well within the target range of values we expect from “order-of-magnitude biology”.”
  2. Cognitive bias cheat sheet: I revisited this article due to an in-progress end-of-year review post. I’m not sure how solid the foundations of the included biases now are–see the replication crisis–but this article is a good starting-point/reference for exploration of human cognition.
  3. Your ‘Surge Capacity’ is Depleted: Feeling like everything is out of control? That’s because it is. And it’s okay to feel utterly depressed/burned-out/panicked/sad as a result. Quote: ““This is an unprecedented disaster for most of us that is profound in its impact on our daily lives,” says Masten. But it’s different from a hurricane or tornado where you can look outside and see the damage. The destruction is, for most people, invisible and ongoing. So many systems aren’t working as they normally do right now, which means radical shifts in work, school, and home life that almost none of us have experience with. Even those who have worked in disaster recovery or served in the military are facing a different kind of uncertainty right now. “I think we maybe underestimate how severe the adversity is and that people may be experiencing a normal reaction to a pretty severe and ongoing, unfolding, cascading disaster,” Masten says. “It’s important to recognize that it’s normal in a situation of great uncertainty and chronic stress to get exhausted and to feel ups and downs, to feel like you’re depleted or experience periods of burnout.””
  4. Nanopore DNA Sequencing: Yes, progress is real. Real-time DNA sequencing is now trickling down to near consumer level. I’ve wondered at the effects of the democratisation of simulation tech before; what about the democratisation of sequencing tech? (Also worth noting that Rene Girard views humanity’s ability to manipulate the human genome as one of three existential threats; the other two are ecological collapse and nuclear weapons.)
  5. Louisiana Channel: Their tagline–“videos on the arts, featuring the artists”. I first came across LC’s Umberto Eco mini-doc. Since then, I’ve watched a few more, mostly about people I’m completely unfamiliar with. Recently, I watched Shahrnush Parsipur’s Developing Literature in Iran is Difficult, Matias Faldbakken’s An Element of Vandalismand 12 Artists on Childhood.
  6. Polar Stratospheric Clouds by Hordur Kristleifsson: Startling visuals. Unlike anything I’ve seen before. Upon further investigation, it turns out that polar stratospheric clouds are something of a femme fatale. From NASA: “Scientists recently discovered that polar stratospheric clouds, long known to play an important role in Antarctic ozone destruction, are occurring with increasing frequency in the Arctic. These high altitude clouds form only at very low temperatures [and] help destroy ozone in two ways: They provide a surface which converts benign forms of chlorine into reactive, ozone-destroying forms, and they remove nitrogen compounds that moderate the destructive impact of chlorine. In recent years, the atmosphere above the Arctic has been colder than usual, and polar stratospheric clouds have lasted into the spring. As a result, ozone levels have been decreasing.”
  7. Cult Creation by Steve Newcombe: I decided to read this because Roam Research co-founder, Conor White-Sullivan, consistently references it. My favourite part: ” In 2005, when we founded Powerset, we realized Ruby was the new Python, so we went after some A-level people in the Ruby community. The top two we went after were first, Kevin Clark (a 20 year-old wiz-kid who we were trying to convince to quit school) and second Tom Preston Werner (now the founder of GitHub). We got both of them, and within a matter of months, we had one of the largest Ruby teams on the planet. Anyone who wanted to code in Ruby knew about Powerset simply from the Ruby meet-ups which were dominated by either Powerset or Twitter people. We then did the same thing in the field of computational linguistics. At one point we estimated that of the 200 or so people that really understood computational linguistics in the world, we had about 40 of them. What’s the benefit? Once we knew we had this level of talent market share penetration, we had almost a guaranteed worst-case scenario that most startups would dream about. We knew that our talent pool was so strong, that even in the event that we just ran out of money, one of the big three search engines would simply buy us for our team.”

The Magnificent Seven #24: NASA Prototypes – 03/01/21

  1. University Students Design Prototypes NASA Could Develop in Missions to the Moon, Mars, and Beyond by Doug Messier: NASA’s eXploration Systems and Habitation (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge has six categories: “1) Habitation; 2) Life Support; 3) In-Space Manufacturing; 4) NASA Platform for Autonomous Systems (NPAS); 5) Space Life and Physical Science; and 6) Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI).” This article is a summary of funded entries.
    My favourite is Rice University’s In-Space Manufacturing entry: “…a parametric-based repository of 3D shapefiles as a practical tool for just-in-time problem solving. The repository seeks to solve the basic and everyday repair and maintenance needs in space, such as on the space station, the Gateway, or in deep space. The database includes critical items that may be necessary in medical procedures or extreme outside repair need cases and provides the file, visual information, simple use cases, failure modes, end-of-life information, and restrictions on use. Each part also features novel parametric coding that allows the part geometry to be adjusted based on alternate use cases.”
  2. Negative Utilitarianism: An old post of mine, Stories, post-abolition got plugged on the r/negativeutilitarians sub-reddit. Negative utilitarianism is a morality that prescribes we should act, first, to reduce the aggregate amount of suffering in the world. Negative utilitarianism itself is something I haven’t explored, but I imagine it shares the traits (both strengths and weaknesses) of basic utilitarianism. The post wonders what happens to stories when suffering is removed from existence. The impetus for the post came from the Abolition Project.
  3. Box breathing: one of the simplest and most useful ideas I got from James Nestor’s book, Breath, is box breathing. A breath has four stages. Alongside inhalation and exhalation, there are the pauses before inhalation and exhalation. Thus: inhale-pause-exhale-pause. Allocate each stage the same length of time (usually four, sometime five, seconds) and that’s box breathing. Supposedly, the Navy SEALS use this procedure to remain calm under pressure. We can do the same. And if you prefer a visual aide to the monotony of counting, check out the replies in this thread.
  4. Helen Lewis on how Sherlock cracked the case of on-screen mobile phone use: “Smartphones also created a new type of behaviour. Texts were now swooshy and colourful, and they began to seem less intrusive than the tinny insistence of interrupting someone’s life with a call. You could also access the internet, a great river of never-ending content, scrollable with a lazy flick of the finger. And so we began to live in two worlds at once, one made of shapes and people, and the other made of text. The most acute observation in that Sherlock press conference is that nothing could be so interesting – not even a briefing about a potential serial killer – that you wouldn’t still find yourself checking a new message on your phone.”
  5. Randall Rudd’s instructions for drawing a single drop of water: something so simple can be so complex.
  6. I Tried to Block Amazon From My Life. It Was Impossible by Kashmir Hill: Part of a larger series called Goodbye Big Five. Quote: ” “I’d be stunned if AWS product managers aren’t using data from the usage patterns of their platform to decide with whom and how to build competitive products,” said Matthew Prince, who runs Cloudflare, one of the content delivery networks that frustrated my blocker this week. “They’ve done this relentlessly in retail, there’s no reason to think they won’t use the data from their platform to do the same with digital services. Companies that use AWS are feeding critical market data directly to the company that, almost certainly, will one day be their largest competitor.” 
    Amazon did not respond to an inquiry about how it uses data gleaned through hosting other companies’ web offerings.”
  7. Double Fine Adventure!: An older, behind-the-scenes documentary series that follows the production of a Kickstarter-funded game. I watched it a few years back, but I’ve been thinking about it this week. I’m learning more about computing, programming and the infrastructure we all rely on in our day-to-day lives; it’s becoming more obvious to me that a tremendous amount of works goes into its creation and a tremendous amount of work is required to maintain it.

The Magnificent Seven #23: Alien Intelligences – 27/12/20

  1. alien intelligences by Alice Maz: the first piece of Alice’s writing that I’ve actually sat down and read. It was worth it. The most striking part for me was the observation that outsiders are cared for only because of their potential to be re-absorbed as insiders. There’s more than half a truth in that idea. 
    Quote: “those who exist outside of institutions are ghosts. most discussion, whether compassionate or demonizing, of groups at the margins—homeless, neets, illegal immigrants, the “potentially” criminal and “untreated” insane—centers around how they may be sorted back into institutions and which ones they belong in”
  2. When life was literally full of crap by Jason Crawford: A post about the use of excrement in the different ages of society. Little things like plumbing are, truly, quite miraculous.
  3. Joining Apple 40 years Ago by Jean-Louis Gassee: A little Apple history. Quote: “Even if the Mac no longer dominates Apple’s financials — that ended in 2006 when the iPod became Apple’s number one revenue maker — it endures as an iconic product, one that I and many others are sentimentally and practically attached to. The advent of Macs powered by Apple Silicon is a significant milestone along Apple’s road to complete vertical integration that began decades ago… In 1985, Apple engineer Sam Holland convinced us to develop our own 4-processor CPU chip to power future Macs. This was to be done in collaboration with AT&T Microelectronics and led us to buy a Cray supercomputer on which to simulate the future world-beating Mac CPU. Although the project never panned out, it wasn’t entirely a failure: The idea that the Mac could be vertically integrated all the way down to the silicon manifested itself in the 2008 acquisition of Palo Alto Semiconductor, which led to the development of a line of best-in-class iPhone processors, and now MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptops running on Apple Silicon M1 SoCs.”
  4. Why software ends up complex by Alex Gaynor: Quote: “Every feature request has a constituency – some group who wants it implemented, because they benefit from it. Simplicity does not have a constituency in the same way, it’s what economists call a non-excludable good – everyone benefits from it. This means that supporters can always point to concrete benefits to their specific use cases, while detractors claim far more abstract drawbacks. The result is that objectors to any given feature addition tend to be smaller in number and more easily ignored. Leading to constant addition of features, and subtraction of simplicity.” 
  5. Thinking in Systems by Donella H. Meadows: I finished this a week or so ago. I have yet to review my highlights, but I can definitely say that it’s been a good read. One that has given me the seeds of a language and the basis for a different approach to my spheres of activity. 
  6. The Great Conjunction: A high in a 2020 full of not-so-highs. Unfortunately, where I live, we weren’t able to see the GC. But there are plenty of great visuals spread around the net. If you need a break from this reality, take a moment to look out into the universe at large.
  7. EU vs EU-UK Trade Agreement Infographic: Quite depressing stuff. Fortunately, as many people have pointed out, the start of the UK’s estrangement from the EU is also the start of its journey towards membership. Multiple generations have been stripped of many rights and much potential; that won’t be forgotten. In the meantime, the best thing us residents of Little Britain can do is to resist the brew of hatred, spitefulness and incompetence that is in danger of becoming the UK’s chief export, and oppose it with stances of compassion and courage.

The Magnificent Seven #22: Israel Galván – 20/12/20

  1. Israel Galván: From a young age, I’ve been active and movement-focused. Now, I consistently try to expand my movement-related inputs. Not just kettlebell masters and Brazilian jiu-jitsu phenoms. Flamenco dancers, too…
    Galván is a flamenco dancer and choreographer. I learned about him through the Netflix documentary, Move. Each episode tells the story of a dance tradition through the lens of an individual deeply embedded within it. In an episode I watched this weekend, Galván, especially whilst dancing in a coffin and performing in Sevilla’s most prestigious bull-ring, is mesmerising.
  2. Floating Signifier: Startups attempt to find product-market fit. Social causes must search for a “floating signifier”– or pre-frontal-cortex-movement fit.
    Quote: “For activists, a well-crafted floating signifier can be a powerful tool for catalyzing broad-based action. Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatistas, for example, deployed the concept of the floating signifier masterfully. Marcos described the masks the Zapatistas wore as a mirror in which all who struggle for a better world can see themselves. The Zapatistas’ iconic black balaclava was not just a necessity for personal security, but became a powerful statement of unity and universality. “Behind our black mask,” they declared, “we are you.”” H/t to Samuel Ludford.
  3. On the Medium of Thought by Andres Gomez Emilsson: This post explores the idea that the medium of thought both constrains and enables its content. Bias is never eradicated. It is just swapped for something different, both qualitatively and quantitively.
    I was also intrigued by the idea that truth requires a helper, a hand-maiden to be able to stumble into the light. It rarely walks unaided. Perhaps, a more apt expression is that truth requires a cloak, woven of story or power, to be recognised by an observer.
    Quote: “Next time you have an intense emotion, introspect on the ways it influences your imagination. In a great mood, do you not have, perhaps, much more access to soft, regular, and manageable textures of thought you can use as building blocks for your field of imagination? And when in a depressive mood, aren’t thoughts, perhaps, more likely to be built out of nauseous, gloomy, starved, or self-loathing building blocks? It is thus why in a sense it is so hard, for the most part, to “think yourself out” of a depression. This is because the thoughts themselves are the ways the depression expresses itself!”
  4. Skipping Ropes: Most of the time, my warm-ups follow the GPS protocol: general, person and session-specific. Ten minutes of general activity followed by a few rounds of activity that target specific issues (e.g. tight hips), and then some practice of movements that relate to the session at hand. However, it’s winter here in the UK, which makes warming up for at-home movement sessions more problematic. Especially the general part. Fortunately, I have a skipping rope. Given a meter or two squared and a rope, I can get hot, even in near-zero temperatures. More importantly, habitual use of a jump rope seems to do good things for the brain. It’s a mental challenge as much as a physical one.
  5. The Strategic Theory of John Boyd by Tasshin Fogleman: a useful introduction to some of the key components of Boydian thought: tempo, morality, leveraging people, ideas and hardware (“in that order”) to disrupt systems, and interconnectedness. The last is the most important. If you like Tasshin’s overview, check out Venkatesh Rao’s Use and Misuse of the OODA Loop or Robert Coram’s biography of John Boyd, The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War.
  6. Meta-rationality: An introduction by David Chapman: I’m not a rationalist, either in the Less Wrong sense or in the sense that Chapman describes here–possessing mastery within a technical domain. But I have heard of meta-rationality, as a concept, being thrown around. Now, I have a marginally better understanding of what it is.
    Quote: “They meta-rationalists produce these insights by investigating the relationship between a system of technical rationality and its context. The context includes a specific situation in which rationality is applied, the purposes for which it is used, the social dynamics of its use, and other rational systems that might also be brought to bear. This work operates not within a system of technical rationality, but aroundabove, and then on the system.”
  7. Pictures of the Year 2020: A heart-rending tour through 2020. If I had to summarise the collection in a single word (a foolish task, I know) I’d opt for “resistance”. The other option would be to emphasis the pain, the sorrow, the heartache. I don’t want to do that; given a choice between focusing on humanity’s ability to inflict or endure pain versus its ability to show strength in response to it, I’ve learned to choose the latter.

The Magnificent Seven #21: Future Frontiers – 13/12/20

  1. Future Frontiers by The Yak Collective: YC’s latest public project is live. Nanosatellites, consumer-priced submersibles, human hibernation; exciting stuff. 
    Quote: “In the 14th century, around the time of the Black Death, citizen explorers like Ibn Battuta and Petrarch planted the earliest seeds of democratized exploration culture. The Age of Exploration witnessed the voyages of explorers like Zheng He, Columbus, Vasco da Gama, and Ferdinand Magellan, who relied on royal patronage. By the 20th century, exploration had become accessible to the educated middle classes, and institutional and state support catalyzed a vast increase in exploratory activity, culminating in the space programs of the U.S. and USSR, as well as efforts like the International Geophysical Year (1957–1958).
    While mass participation in frontier exploratory activities is still not a reality, more, and cheaper, enabling technologies are appearing than at any time in history.
    In the wake of Covid19, could an era of democratized access to frontiers be the key to a renewed sense of larger purpose in the universe for humanity? In this continuously evolving project, members of the Yak Collective ponder our future as an exploratory species.”
  2. Now Reading: Probably my last Now Reading thread of 2020. It includes three fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, contemporary) and three non-fiction (computing-focused, human-focused and systems/ecology-focused) books. I was going to say which I’m most excited about digging into but I realised I’m pretty psyched about them all.
  3. How Dictators Control the Internet by Eda Keremoğlu and Nils B. Weidmann: A quick introduction to the basics of internet-interference run by autocratic regimes that, in turn, reminded me of Kranzberg’s first law of technology
    My favourite part: “Moreover, particular digital tactics employed by the government may even backfire and undermine autocrats’ rule in the long run. When autocrats exclude certain groups from the internet, they establish new “digital divides” in the population, which in turn could increase grievances and motivations to mobilize.”
    This, I think, hints at a trend towards decentralisation that is already underway. See Venkatesh Rao’s Extended Internet Universe. The result is (or will be) a more secure and private internet, achieved by unconventional means–not by encryption or tricksy identity-protection mechanisms, but by the sheer mass of fragmented presences and distributed activity. Think of the security and relative solace achieved by the implausibility of computational demands associated with brute force hacking. Now apply that to social interactions across the web.
  4. Britain’s Warfare State by Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis: London is already renowned as the most illustrious jewel of the world’s launderettes. Just ask Roberto SavianoGeorge Monbiot or Nicholas Wilson. Dirty money is dutifully cleansed with the aide of prestigious professional services firms, banks and property conglomerates. Worse, the playbook of innovative accounting and legal acrobatics grows each day, remaining impenetrable to those with the will to decipher it and ignored by those with the capacityto intervene but not the motivation. With Brexit imminent, there’s an opportunity to further extend the popular laundering services. There’s also seems to be designs to cement the UK as the world’s foremost no-questions-asked arms dealer for the wealthy and murderous.
  5. How Ertugrul resurrected the Muslim imagination by Azad Essa: “Dirilis: Ertugrul (Resurrection: Ertugrul), created by Mehmet Bozdag, told the story of a young warrior in 13th-century Anatolia who embarks on a mission to find a permanent home for his Turkic tribe, known as the Kayi, who lived as nomads on the steppes of central Asia. There, they seek shelter from the elements, navigate food shortages during harsh winters, and battle marauding Christian Crusaders and Mongols.” 
    I doubt I’ll commit to watching the marathon that is Dirilis: Ertugrul but it was interesting to read about its foundations and, more importantly, about the impact it is having on audiences around the world. 
    The most interesting part of the article, for me, begins thus: “The allure of Dirilis: Ertugrul, its rampant success, raises deeper questions about the established ideas of the social and economic structure of our lives. During the 1980s and 1990s, just as the Cold War ended and Muslims became the overnight scapegoats for the failings of the West, we were told that we had reached, as Francis Fukuyama described it, the end of history. We were either for consumerism or against western civilization. But Dirilis: Ertugrul upends these assumptions in three ways.”
  6. Seeing Our Own Reflection in the Birth of Self-Portrait by Jason Farago: Never did I think I’d pay as much attention to Albrecht Dürer’s self-portrait. The piece begins: “In the eyes of us poor moderns, it seems self-evident that a picture can capture who you are. That your posed image, your face and your clothing, express something essential about your personality. It’s the myth on which every selfie stands.
    But the premise that an image can be an authentic representation — that you are a unique individual at all — is not self-evident. It is a historical development. It had to be invented.”
  7. The Gig Economy is White People Discovering Servants by Indi Samarajiva: I’ll be honest. I usually avoid articles like this as they tend to generate more heat than light. But, having recently finished Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Water Dancer (recommended) I took a dip. 
    Quote: “The gig economy is just white people re-discovering servants. That’s really all it is. It offers the same conveniences as centuries past, or ‘developing’ countries now, but also comes with the same economic and ethical issues. As much AI or even automation as you throw at it, you still have poorer people doing stuff you don’t want to do for not really enough money.
    The real disruption would be something that renders the gig economy or servant class empty, because it lifts living standards for so many. Something that creates actual middle class jobs and lifts real family incomes across the board. In the past these have been government infrastructure programs, or opening up to free trade, or allowing more free movement of people. But those policies aren’t sexy and they don’t have an app.”
    At the article’s end, the author links to a more expansive post built on a similar foundation: The Servant Economy. Which also reminds me of the main issue I have with the idea that your should hire a cleaner if you earn more per hour than a cleaner costs. It points to a fundamental issue in our civilisational structure, actually. I’m gonna save that discussion for later, though.

The Magnificent Seven #20: Making Zithers – 06/12/20

  1. Making Zithers by Nick Sousanis: The visual story-telling on display here really bends my brain. I’m used to stories being related procedurally, line-by-line, even if the actual story is more chaotic and disordered. Composition in comic format must be a lot of fun. Perhaps I should actually read some comics—any suggestions, let me know. Also worth checking out is Sketching Entropy, a comic creation behind-the-scenes. 
    Quote from Making Zithers: “So the assignment I came up with a few years ago around this idea is called “Zithers” – essentially, I draw for my students (and anyone can do this for themselves) a circuitous reading path, and then ask them to “solve” it. That is, design a comics page in which the reading path follows the drawn curve by using whatever affordances of making comics that you can bring to it: panel layout, word balloons/captions, sound effects, figures crossing panels/outside of panels, background imagery – whatever they come up with. I do stress I would prefer it not to be a snake/chutes and ladders gameboard sort of thing – that’s a little too easy. What surprised me the first time we did it was not just that students solved it creatively, which they did, but the sort of stories that it generated. Yes, we had jumping figures that made the reading paths, but we also had totally novel stories, things that weren’t on their mind to create, but the prompt itself sent them in new directions.”
  2. Augustine and institutional resilience by Michael Uhall: I read Uhall’s An introduction to gray sky thinking before the linked piece. The talk of Augustine’s “salvage practice” reminded me of Hawken’s discussion of the “waste = food” idea in Blessed Unrest. From what I can see, this is equivalent to the second law of ecology: everything must go somewhere. It also reminded me of Venkatesh Rao’s charting of civilisational waste flows in The Zeroth Mile.
    Quote from the piece: “Consider, then, the work of salvage. Salvage (verb): the recovery of elements from the battlefield or the deep in order to repurpose wreckage, in order to craft new artifacts or new architectures from debris or detritus, from rubble or ruins. A salvage project is never just about stripping down something old so as to make something new, for repurposing salvage materials always integrates some functional elements from those materials into the new creation itself. In this sense, the world is made of salvage, its elements pressganged and rewired into alien service by impersonal processes.”
  3. How to resist the new totalitarianism by Niall Gooch: I follow Niall on Twitter, in large part because I’m often not sure if I agree with what he tweets, or tweets about. This piece is one such thing. “Soft totalitarianism” is an intriguing idea but I do wonder, at what point does regular ol’ culture morph into it? 
    Quote: “All of these occurrences illustrate Dreher’s central thesis: that inhabitants of Western countries are seeing the development of a new soft totalitarianism. Under this dispensation, interpersonal freedoms — those related to sexual expression and sexual self-definition, to the actualisation of a Self created by an individual for themselves — are sacrosanct, whereas old-fashioned concrete liberties of speech and thought and assembly and debate, are up for grabs. This is Philip Rieff’s “triumph of the therapeutic”, where the state will protect us from disapproval, challenge and criticism — even if that requires the destruction of proper freedoms.”
  4. How the World Gave Up on the Stateless by Udi Greenberg: I read this because I’ve authored a short story called Stateless, which posits the concept of “statelessness” as a choice and opportunity rather than a burden and a misfortune. 
    Quote: “This meant that the trauma of World War II did little to curtail states’ ability to determine their populations’ lawful status. The tragedies at Auschwitz and Hiroshima were not followed by international cooperation and human solidarity but by a harsh world order premised on national sovereignty, one in which statelessness continued to flourish. Few recognized this fact more viscerally than officials at the newly created U.N., who in 1945 were tasked with handling the massive number of refugees produced by years of global violence. Unlike their predecessors at the League of Nations, they did not even consider issuing international passports. Their efforts instead focused squarely on relocation and nationalization: Poles were sent to Poland, Italians to Italy, and so on, where local authorities were to decide their fate.”
  5. AlphaFold: A Solution to a 50 Year Old Grand Challenge in Biology: I’m trying to expand my technological consciousness, to better understand what happens at both the very bottom and the very top of the tech-stack. Thinking about yet-to-be-realised real-world applications for such technology is an intriguing activity, and will continue to be so for as long as fundamental deep learning tools continue to be democratised and adopted en masse. 
  6. Alan Watts on Death: A provocative Alan Watts lecture dubbed over an animation. It made me realise that I’ve thought about death less often than I once used to, especially post-death scenarios. Of course, thoughts of death summon feelings of fear, doubt, sadness and loss. But, to me, thinking of death also brings a little comfort. I’ve found few better summary of this idea thus far than a quote from the His Dark Materialstrilogy: “ “But now this child has come offering us a way out and I’m going to follow her. Even if it means oblivion, friends, I’ll welcome it, because it won’t be nothing, we’ll be alive again in a thousand blades of grass, and a million leaves, we’ll be falling in the raindrops and blowing in the fresh breeze, we’ll be glittering in the dew under the stars and the moon out there in the physical world which is our true home and always was.” ”
  7. Now Roaming: I’m ninety-five percent certain that I’m going to dig into Roam Research(and utilise RoamBrain). The difference this time, in comparison to other attempted adoptions of second brains and notation systems, is that it won’t be totalitarian in nature. I’m constraining the use-case upfront so that, if I think it’s a bust, I don’t feel too bad about sunk costs. If you have any constructive advice to offer, let me know.

The Magnificent Seven #19: The Octopus and the Machine – 29/11/20

  1. The Octopus and the Machine by Samuel Ludford: A tonne of interesting ideas here. Otto the octopus’ “blurring of the scientific frame” reminds me of a book I’m reading, titled Blessed Unrest. It’s about convergence of the environmentalism, social justice and indigenous protection movements. Samuel’s blog, divine curation, is also worth a look.
    Quote from the article: “What, then, of the warmth felt for Otto [the octopus] by the wider audience? I have suggested that the agency of the technological bureaucracy is masked by transferring it onto Otto. On neither side of this transference are humans considered significant actors. As such, the situation represents a certain kind of powerlessness of the humans involved, a diminishment of their own agency. As representatives of the aquarium defence of its technological systems is axiomatic, so any actor that interferes with them is necessarily a bad actor. But for anyone who is not professionally invested, there is no reason why this must be so. The aquarium is in many ways a microcosm for a much larger technological bureaucracy, one which encompasses and permeates the whole of human society. It includes computers, everyday gadgets, cars, industrial machinery, scientific apparatus, the machinic ideas guiding scientific thought, targeted advertising algorithms, cybernetic motifs in cultural products, and so on. These things come with their own demands, their own agency manifesting as unintended and often undesirable effects, disrupting and confounding human ends. A sense of powerlessness in the face of this is hardly surprising, and nor, for that matter, is the welcome of a creature that appears capable of defying the regime.”
  2. Athena Thriving: A guide to combating gender discrimination in the US army. Naturally, it throws up a whole kaleidoscope of scenarios that I would never have thought of. This pairs well with The Woman Who Built Beethoven’s Pianos and a quote from Nahla Valji: “Our formal economy is only possible because it is subsidised by women’s unpaid work.”
  3. The Good Law Project: I came across Jo Maugham on Twitter during the UK election last year. The Good Law Project came onto my radar during the ongoing Brexit fiasco and because of its investigations into the multi-billion pound corruption enabled by Covid19. Since reading The Secret Barrister’s Fake Law, I’ve taken more of an interest in the UK government’s structure generally and folded sources concerned specifically with the British judiciary into my info-streams. The latter occurred because I wanted some more insight into why (and how) the rule of law fails to apply to the ruling classes.
  4. Your Computer Isn’t Yours by Jeffrey Paul: Quote: “These machines are the first general purpose computers ever where you have to make an exclusive choice: you can have a fast and efficient machine, or you can have a private one. (Apple mobile devices have already been this way for several years.) Short of using an external network filtering device like a travel/vpn router that you can totally control, there will be no way to boot any OS on the new Apple Silicon macs that won’t phone home, and you can’t modify the OS to prevent this (or they won’t boot at all, due to hardware-based cryptographic protections).”
  5. So, I listened to that list of 1001 Albums by David J. W. Bailey: I don’t think I’d ever try this, so I’m glad someone else has. Quote: “We now listen to things that would simply have been considered “outside of music” in the 1950s and 1960s. The boundaries have moved. The book does a great job of showing you the precise moments at which those boundaries changed, sometimes gradually, and sometimes in huge leaps. It explains who moved them, and what the consequences were. One or two albums are still outside the boundaries of what 99.99% of listeners would ever consider to be anything even close to “music”. Yet they are there in the book for a reason, and that reason makes sense at the end.”
  6. Watched Walker: If, like us in the UK, you’re currently under lockdown and missing ambient human noise, Watched Walker is a good resource. It’s exactly what it sounds like–recordings of a person walking various locales from around the world. Fun fact: I used the Holland Park video whilst writing Stay (a short story from Ss) in order to get a feel for the environment of a particular scene.
  7. How is software development different in China and India? Reading the comments/answers, I discovered that there isn’t a tremendous difference. Software, hardware and networking conventions converge more than they diverge. Some helpful links within the AskHN thread include a StackExchange thread (How do programmers in the East see programmers in the West?), an Alibaba article titled 25 Things You Should Know about Developers in China and a paper titled The Future of Chinese Software Development.
    During this (very) small scale exploration of alternatives to the web-tech stack, I think I’ve realised that true alternatives require a doctrine-level difference in perception. A good overview of what doctrine-level differences look like comes from a Ben Thompson/Stratchery article which examines the “four internets”. But even these “four internets” build atop the same fundamental technology…

The Magnificent Seven #18: Until You Wake Up – 22/11/20

  1. Until You Wake Up by Martin Stranka: I came across this striking image on Twitter, of all places. Strange has more arresting imagery collected on his site, too. Another I enjoyed was Circle of Life. Sticking with the visual theme, I ended up reading an article about Monet’s paintings of trees.
  2. Behind the Code: Welcome to the Jungle’s tech journalism is considered better than most, especially the articles under the Behind the Code umbrella. Its three collections–coder storiescareer hacking and offbeat–cover a lot of ground. I ended up reading about The Philosophies of Software Languages, from Go to Elixir (which is actually the last of a four-part language examinations series: see from Plankalkül to Cfrom Smalltalk to Perl and from Java to JavaScript). This reminded me of the idea of philosophy as autobiography. I also read about the “new space race”, which describes the practices of modern firms like UnseenLabs, Spire Global and Loft Orbital.
  3. The Mattereum Big Deck by Vinay Gupta: Vinay is one of a handful of people I’m aware of who is a planetary-scale thinker (if you know others, message me). This deck represents a synthesis of a lot of his work and contains many, many things for all of us to think about. I didn’t think I’d ever say this about a powerpoint, but this deck is an important artefact. From the first few slides: “Remember, sustainable means 2 tons of CO2 per person per year, or 16 gigatons for the entire planet. … Every path we have out of poverty massively increases people’s resource consumption. … More or less the entire human population is trapped in either poverty or climate destruction.” For more, follow Vinay on Twitter.
  4. How Discord (somewhat accidentally) invented the future of the internet by David Pierce: A quick tour of Discord’s rise. The element I found most interesting was the inevitable slide from non-intervention to a policy of strong and proactive moderation.
    Quote: “Now they see it differently. “Discord is like a country with 100 million inhabitants, living in different states and towns,” Li said. “We make the rules on what is allowed to help shape the society at large, and we empower server moderators and admins to help us enforce and expand upon them based on the needs of their communities.” He wants to help moderators create whatever kind of community they want, and Discord’s also getting better at giving moderators the tools and knowhow to do so, but only within the boundaries set by the broader platform. Those didn’t exist for too many years. Now, Discord’s trying simply to be clear and forceful about what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and to enforce those rules consistently. It’s investing in bots and other automated mod tools, but the Trust and Safety team now makes up more than 15% of Discord’s staff. While there’s still plenty of bad stuff on the platform, progress seems to be strong.”
  5. An Engineering Argument for Basic Income by Scott Santens: Yes, I am pounding the basic income drum once again. It is a good drum. A worthy drum. Quote: “Bang-bang design is like the way thermostats typically work. You set the temperature at what you want, and when the environment gets too far above or below that setting, bang, the air conditioning or heat kicks on to bring the room back to the desired temperature, and then, bang, it turns off again. … Proportional control means that the further a system strays from the desired setting, more force is applied to bring it back. It doesn’t wait to do anything until a point is reached. It adjusts at all points. … Right now, our safety net uses bang-bang design. If you lose your job, bang, the safety net turns on, that is if you satisfy the necessary conditions, and you may or may not still fall to your death because of the holes in the net. If you do get help, it’s temporary and then, bang, no more help, or if you don’t satisfy the conditions, bang, no more help.”
  6. Butterick’s Practical Typography: This is an incredible resource, especially for people who work with words. I’ve used it many, many times and the Summary of key rulespage is definitely worth the tiny time investment.
  7. The labyrinth challenge: I drafted some more of my novella and it threw up a challenge: the creation of a labyrinth with two particular constraints. Fortunately, I posted about it in the Yak Collective Discord, where Venkatesh directed me to Daniel Schmidt–his ProductLogic site has a tonne of useful ideas that will soon prove useful to me, but more importantly he’s a maze-master. Dan came back with an immediate prototype that will form the basis for further riffing. I also ended up reading Dan’s guest post on Ribbonfarm: Mazes as Mirrors of Creation.
    Quote: “Satisfying Gutenberg’s vision requires traveling from “start” to “end” in the maze. While the start and end points are close together spatially, there is no open path within the inner region of the maze. Gutenberg, at first, is creatively blocked. Instead, you must travel to different domains until you find that the discipline of coin making holds the key breakthrough Gutenberg needed to execute his vision.”

The Magnificent Seven #17: Faces of Assassination – 15/11/20

  1. Faces of Assassination: A macabre cousin of the Humans of New York project. I’m including this because while most of us would understand that there is much resistance that takes place in the shadows, comparatively few of us appreciate that many die resisting in the shadows, too. 
    Quote: “In the years the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime has spent documenting and researching the criminal ecosystem, we have seen that, increasingly, criminal groups around the world are targeting those whom we can broadly categorize as civil society – people who choose to make social justice and the promotion of equality their life’s work. Such individuals are being assassinated because theirs are goals and aspirations and missions that confront and challenge the power, authority and local legitimacy of criminal interests the world over.” 
    It’s also worth noting that a PDF of all the bios is available and a paperback version is available by request.
  2. EDC Showcase: As a human and bearer of various tools, I find it interesting to see what things others use, why, and how. The linked site has a ton of pocket dumps and short accompanying blurbs. 
    Thinking of EDC reminds me of a post by Venkatesh Rao, titled The Things You Carry. Quote: “Taking an inventory of the things you have carried through your life so far is a very good way to introspect systematically. A significant change in the things you carry is a very reliable indicator of a new chapter beginning. If you actually go through the exercise, you’ll probably end up, as I did, with a list of distinct sets of items for every few years of your life. At 40, I seem to have lived a 7-8 chapter life, going by the things I’ve carried.”
  3. Sam Hinkies’s Resignation Letter: I’m trying to get better at appreciating good writing, no matter the domain it hails from. I came to the letter via a post titled, Trust the Process by Packy McCormick and I certainly enjoyed it. Quote: “Maybe someday the information teams have at their disposal won’t require scouring the globe watching talented players and teams. That day has not arrived, and my Marriott Rewards points prove it from all the Courtyards I sleep in from November to March. There is so much about projecting players that we still capture best by seeing it in person and sharing (and debating) those observations with our colleagues. What kind of teammate is he? How does he play under pressure? How broken is his shot? Can he fight over a screen? Does he respond to coaching? How hard will he work to improve? And maybe the key one: will he sacrifice—his minutes, his touches, his shots, his energy, his body—for the ultimate team game that rewards sacrifice? That information, as imperfect and subjective as it may be, comes to light most readily in gyms and by watching an absolute torrent of video.”
  4. Ārya Prajñā: Artificial Intelligence according to Indian ethical values – Part I (and Part II) by Kiran Varanasi: This one is connected to the mention of Conway’s Law (“Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure”) in Alex Danco’s postfrom the last issue.
    Varanasi provides a tour of certain aspects of Indian philosophical thought and certain aspects of Christian thought before exploring how the two approaches relate to the development of AI. He concludes by proposing: “Interconnectedness of Sacrifice (Yajñabandha) instead of Causality (Kāraṇatva)”, “Prosperity of refined flowing language (Āryabhāshāsaṃvṛddhi) instead of regulation by law” and “Environmental awareness instead of Isolation”. 
    Whilst reading, I was also reminded of Tom Holland’s Dominion, which argues, “Even the increasing number in the West today who have abandoned the faith of their forebears, and dismiss all religion as pointless superstition, remain recognisably its [Christianity’s] heirs.”
  5. Wanderlust: Rebecca Solnit on How Walking Vitalizes the Meanderings of the Mind by Maria Popova: Some of the most peaceful, contented moments of my life have come whilst walking. Whilst walking my old Labrador Bailey, whilst walking our little Daxi-Jack, whilst walking with people I love, or simply walking on my lonesome. Walking is therapeutic, restorative and energising, and this article (along with all the linked sources) attests to that. It’s the opposite of “the faster one goes, the less one sees“; slowness empowers perception and experience.
    Quoting Solnit: “Thinking is generally thought of as doing nothing in a production-oriented culture, and doing nothing is hard to do. It’s best done by disguising it as doing something, and the something closest to doing nothing is walking. Walking itself is the intentional act closest to the unwilled rhythms of the body, to breathing and the beating of the heart. It strikes a delicate balance between working and idling, being and doing. It is a bodily labor that produces nothing but thoughts, experiences, arrivals.”
  6. Curvahedra: As a relentless fidgeter, this is appealing: “Currvahedra is a construction puzzle system consisting of sets of identical cut pieces which link together in an ingenious way, without the aid of glue or tape, to build a variety of 3D structures; many different balls, cones and even more complex three dimensional tilings can all be made.”
  7. Down to the Atoms by Derek Lowe: I won’t lie. Most of this went over my head. I’m certainly not a structural biologist, and I definitely know next to nothing about cryo-electron microscopy. But I’m including it because the article reminded me of something that Adam Elkus tweeted (no I can’t find the link): he speculated that progress in the various sciences is due to developments in instrumentation more than anything else. Counter-intuitive but mostly right, I think.

The Magnificent Seven #16: Six Lessons – 08/11/20

  1. Six Lessons from Six Months at Shopify by Alex Danco: I’m anticipating my own experience at an imminent new job to be something like this: “So far it’s going basically on schedule: as I was told, “Your first couple months you’re going to have zero idea what’s going on. Then around month three you’ll come up for air and think, ok, I got this; and then you’ll try to start doing stuff. Then you’ll really struggle, because you won’t be in that happy new float-around-and-learn-people’s-names mode, you’ll be in oh-shit-can-I-really-do-this mode. It’s actually a little scary. But then around month five or six, you start to actually figure some things out for real. And then it starts to feel fun.” ” I also really liked the discussion of point two; Conway’s Law.
  2. Human Rights: What are the questions that really matter? by Jonathan Rowson: A post that displays the seeds of a new approach, especially because it seems willing to transcend the normal collection of civilisational fisticuffs that continues to restrain progress. 
    Quote: “Here are the kinds of living questions that need to be asked to make sense of today’s context for human rights:
    1. In a world increasingly defined by transnational forces of ecology, technology, and finance, are existing forms of governance premised on sovereign nation states fit for purpose?
    2. In a world where the law is often broken with impunity, without shame, should we seek to renew commitment to the rule of law at scale, and if so, how?
    3. In a world where democratic processes are used to consolidate plutocratic power, what do we want government of the people, for the people, by the people to mean?
    4. In a world of data-driven surveillance and psychographic manipulation, is it credible to think that people know their own minds and act in their own interests?
    5. In a world of filter bubbles, disinformation campaigns and the loss of epistemic shame, is it feasible to reclaim a public realm grounded in shared intelligibility?
    6. In a world of cascading, ecological breakdown caused by human behaviour shaped by a tenacious economic model, where should we focus our attention?
    7. In a world of zero-sum economic games (own property, extract value, aggregate profit, accrue interest) and privately owned and potentially harmful exponential technologies (e.g. contagious viruses created through synthetic biology), how might collective action mitigate catastrophic and existential risk?
    8. In a world of planetary-scale trolley problems, where billions may watch millions die and all available options necessitate a breach of principle, how can we help eight billion people internalise the conception of human dignity?
    These are daunting questions because they speak to a new political reality we don’t have the tools to make sense of or act on. Yet the human rights movement, historically often ahead of the curve, may have a role to play in changing that.”
  3. Digital Sovereignty by Simon Wardley: Quote: “Unfortunately, the field (in the West) seems to be dominated by management consultants and other gurus telling stories and trying to define what ‘digital sovereignty’ is as though the general who wins the war is the one who comes up with the best name for it. Our responses all seem to include a slide into protectionism with claims that we need to build our own cloud industries. We seem to have decided to forget that we don’t produce all our own food and cross border trade is an important part of life. Lastly we do like a good moonshot and yes, an artillery barrage can do wonders but it’s a really good idea to look at the landscape before you press fire.” Bonus link within the post: Beijing AI Principles.
  4. Pass the Pablum by Steven Erikson: Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen is a breath-taking monument. I recommend it; I’ve read it twice; I’m planning another re-read (complete with additional materials) next year; it’s GOOD. The linked post is a short essay/rant in which Erikson responds to critics who tag him as writing weak characters. He has more posts about writing on his blog. I also listened to three interviews with Erikson over the past week or two. One was with Daniel Greene and one was with Books with Brittany–both review SFF fiction on their respective YouTube channels. I also listened to an Erikson interview on the Ten Very Big Books podcast. I enjoyed them all immensely, mostly because it’s fascinating to hear a master storyteller talk about writing. All of them reminded me of how much joy I myself find in writing, too. I was also pleased to discover GURPS–the Generic Universal RolePlaying System. I expect I’ll make use of it in the future…,
  5. Adapting online exams for pandemic conditions by Carl T. Bergstrom: A remarkably compassionate Twitter thread overview of developing trends in teaching, and their consequences. Quote: “26. So what can we do instead? // As I mentioned in the first tweet of this thread, writing our tests as before and using these software packages is the “simple” solution. // We don’t have to do things that way. // We can take it upon ourselves to do the heavy lifting needed…” Bergstrom also mentions Bloom’s taxonomy, which is itself a nice construct.
  6. certainties.append: There aren’t many certainties in the world. For a while, my list has totalled exactly one item. This post includes an addition–what are your certainties?
  7. The master programmers of Eastern Europe by Tom Ball: I’m trying to learn more about non-Western conventions for software, hardware and networking tech/infrastructure. Most of the foundational material I’ve come across is (understandably) Anglo-centric. I want to know whether that’s plain ol’ bias or actual absence of historical significance. If you can help with that question, email me. 
    For now… Quote: “If you were in any doubt about the computing excellence of young people from the nations left in the rubble of the Soviet Union’s collapse, consider those nations’ performance at the International Collegiate Programming Contest over the last 15 years. At this annual competition—where teams of young computer scientists from around the world go head-to-head in answering a series of programming problems—there is no competition. Since 2004, the gold medal has been won by teams from either Russia, Ukraine or Poland in every year without fail. You wonder why anyone else bothers to turn up.”

The Magnificent Seven #15: Voices – 01/11/20

  1. Voices by Max Richter: This has become the de facto soundtrack for my slowly-growing novella. A recent review gave it a 6.6 and included this paragraph: “Voices’ most transportive moment comes during the 11-minute centerpiece ‘Chorale.’ At first, Layne oddly recites the opening articles of the [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] again, but when she recedes, a wordless choir takes her place. Their assembled voices eschew language altogether yet speak to the lofty themes of the Declaration. They present the curious entity that is humanity joined as one, stronger together yet always at risk of splintering. Such a beatific sound speaks to our angelic aspects, even when the music of Richter also suggests human fragility and our fallible nature.”
    Fun fact: I wrote Barker to the accompaniment of Richter’s Sleep album. That album is marvellous (and it’s also a film?!).
  2. MJD 59,143 by Venkatesh Rao: Quote: “Lost-decade pauses typically feature anti-grand-narratives, like H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos from the 1920s or the more restricted Godzilla mythos from post-World War 2 Japan. Such anti-grand-narratives induce shrunken rather than extended universes in the imagination. They center human helplessness in the face of larger powers, rather than human agency and universe-denting powers. It’s not that extended universes cannot be imagined, but that they cannot be anthropomorphized and imagined as belonging to humans. The human sphere is temporarily reduced to a footnote in larger cosmic dramas starring non-human forces. Spiritual tendencies get amplified, new religions and cults form, new artistic and literary movements take off. These last are disposed to take a very hard look at the assumptions of the receding age.”
  3. I am an Uighur who faced China’s concentration camps by Victor Jack: Quote: “Prisoners are constantly warned about 48 characteristics considered hostile to the Chinese state, which include growing beards, praying and religious charity-giving, according to Ӧmir. The aim of these drills is clear, he says: ‘become Han Chinese … forget your religion, forget your culture’.
    ‘[If] you don’t listen to them, or cannot recite Mandarin songs, or roll your eyes, or show just a little bit of discontent with this process,’ he argues, then the guards respond with torture.”
  4. Unsplash Awards 2020: Unsplash offers “Over 2 million free high-resolution images brought to you by the world’s most generous community of photographers.” I’ve used the site in my own work and often browse it to get away from the walls of text I usually spend time gazing at. They’re currently soliciting new submissions for their 2020 awards. Here are the finalists from previous years: 201920182017.
  5. MPs Against Free School Meals by Jacob Heppleston: A list compiled after a controversial (read: cruel) UK parliament vote to deny free school meals to children during the holiday periods. Worth noting that those that voted against free school meals benefit from heavily-subsidised (and top quality) food and drink in their own workplaceand can claim “expenses” that approach (and in some cases exceed) their actual salary. On the surface this is heartless. But remember, this takes place in a state whose capital is mostly owned by sheikhshereditary aristocrats and organised crime syndicates, where Excel spreadsheets and deliberately sub-standard PPE costs billions, and whose current ambition is to become a haven for the parasitic elements of the financial services sector and a hell for any and everyone else outside of that domain.
  6. ErgoDox EZ: I’ve had cause to reevaluate my computer setup. I’ve looked into standing desks, mice, keyboards, screens and a rather large (and random) assortment of things adjacent to the field of ergonomics. This is one of the more remarkable finds from that exploration. While I understand the concept behind it, I’m not quite ready to go Full Ergo. Maybe in the near-future…
  7. Everything plus one: I wrote about the idea of habit formation in a scenario where everything is already changing. I also updated my About page to include a more thorough account of the various things I’ve done/tried/experimented with. 

The Magnificent Seven #14: Strength – 25/10/20

  1. Strength by Pejac: “On the campus of University Hospital Marqués de Valdecilla in Santander, Spain, a trio of interventions by street artist Pejac simultaneously responds to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and offers potential paths for healing. The new series, titled Strength, is Pejac’s direct response to the 50,000 people who have died from the virus in his home country. ‘The idea of the Strength project arises as a gesture of gratitude to the health workers of Valdecilla, for their work in general and during this Covid crisis in particular. Offering them what I do best, which is painting,’ the artist says.” There’s a short video on Pejac’s YouTube, too.
  2. Ethical Life by Liam Kofi Bright: Quote: “We experience things as having a moral valence, as accompanied by a sense of whether they are right or wrong. This is plausibly a result of our evolutionary circumstances selecting for some pro- social traits, though this should in no means be taken to imply that all that results from this will be viewed to be desirable or pro-social on reflection. This native moral thinking is primarily realised through emotional reactions colouring our actions and experiences, or driving us to will as desirable certain ends or states of affairs. Anthropological evidence confirms that the precise content of our moral attitudes, what we resultantly will and do, is rather malleable indeed and susceptible to cultural formation. Once we become aware of this possibility of variation it becomes a problem for us how we may express and harmonise our own values to ensure they may be coherently expressed – and hence how we may decide when faced with conflicting moral sentiments. Bringing these sentiments into alignment both within oneself and along with other people, and expressing them through that which we will and do, is the problem of ethical life.”
  3. Three Lex Fridman Podcasts: Over the past couple of weeks, I managed three episodes. The first was with James Gosling, lead guy on the Java programming language (amongst other things). The second was with Brian Kernighan, co-creator of C, AWK and AMPL and prolific author–I’m just about to start his book, Understanding the Digital World. The third was with Donald Knuth, who’s even harder to summarise. All the episodes were great and left me with more questions than answers.
  4. Politics and the English Language by George Orwell: A classic. Also, makes for unpleasant reading for those that, like me, trade in words. I’ll say no more for fear of embarrassing myself.
    “To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a ‘standard English’ which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one’s meaning clear or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a ‘good prose style’. On the other hand it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one, though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one’s meaning. What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is to surrender them.”
  5. Exciting/ambitious desktop OS work by Patrick Collison: This links to a tweet by Collison calling for the above. I took a look at the replies. There’s questions around what constitutes innovation in the space–paradigm shifts, integrations with a wider range of technologies, usability, aesthetics?–but I’ll list some examples… (Note: some are desktop OS adjacent instead of OSs themselves.) PC-over-IP (PCoIP) protocolMercury OSUrbitQubes OSElementary OSHaikuRedox OSGenode OS. Bonus historical read that came up in the replies: Systems Software Research is Irrelevant(written in 2000).
  6. Skyrim rendered in text by Filip Hráček: I wasn’t expecting an overview of a procedurally generated text game. It was intriguing, though, to see how big an influence the concept of abstraction has in interactive media. I ended up playing a complete run-through of Insignificant Little Vermin. Fun stuff. It should be noted that this is a somewhat old article, too. See egamebook for its progression. 
    Quote: “The form factor that Insignificant Little Vermin ended up with is a great fit for casual play, especially on mobile. It’s not taxing in terms of skill. It can be consumed in short bites of gameplay, or as a whole. It provides an element of chance. It lets you read a story that is unique to you, and lets you explore a world at your own pace. It doesn’t require you to squint to see what’s going on on the screen — it’s just text and a few static paintings.”
  7. I Called Everyone in Jeffrey Epstein’s Little Black Book by Leland Nally: A lot of themes running through this one–power, influence, money and the mundanity of the previous trio; the human mind’s ability to tolerate cognitive dissonance, craft narratives and engage in meaning-making; injustice and inequality. 
    Quote: “This urge to make Epstein’s power sophisticated and complex serves a similar purpose as the elites’ insistence on Epstein’s extraordinary genius–both are ways of squaring the evident smallness of the man himself with the vastness of the world he built and the seemingly outsized influence he possessed. Both of them betray a collective lack of imagination when it comes to just how ludicrously rewarded dumbasses can be in this country. Epstein didn’t have to be anything special to become a key player in an evil conspiracy. He had to be rich, and he had to be useful to people richer and more powerful than he was. The very real possibility is that Epstein was both a rich dumbass and a key player in an evil conspiracy, because evil conspiracies require nothing more.”

The Magnificent Seven #13: How Gödel’s Proof Works – 18/10/20

  1. How Gödel’s Proof Works by Natalie Wolchover: My ongoing stack entry (read; learning about computing) has revealed a huge and monstrous gap in my knowledge: mathematics. I suspect I’ll have to plug the gap in a more systematic manner in the near-future. But for now I’ll supplement by info-diet with pieces like this.
    Quote for the uninitiated (like me): “We’ve learned that if a set of axioms is consistent, then it is incomplete. That’s Gödel’s first incompleteness theorem. The second — that no set of axioms can prove its own consistency — easily follows.” 
    Gödel’s incompleteness theorems seems like a quantitative version of the Münchhausen trilemma; both are comments on the fundamental limits of human understanding.
  2. Evolving Floorplans by Joel Simon: Quote: “Evolving Floor Plans is an experimental research project exploring speculative, optimized floor plan layouts. The rooms and expected flow of people are given to a genetic algorithm which attempts to optimize the layout to minimize walking time, the use of hallways, etc. The creative goal is to approach floor plan design solely from the perspective of optimization and without regard for convention, constructability, etc. The research goal is to see how a combination of explicit, implicit and emergent methods allow floor plans of high complexity to evolve.”
    The floorpans themselves have a strange beauty to them. They also seem to correlate with the ideas of Léon Krier and other scholars/actors of the New Urbanism movement.
  3. Let’s hire people randomly by Paul Millerd: Quote: “I want to make a proposal that companies experiment with using lotteries to select entry-level employees at their company. I picked entry-level hiring because the potential perceived cost is lower and companies might be interested in re-allocating large recruiting budgets elsewhere in the company.”
    I like this idea, even though the company’s that can most benefit from it will never implement it. First: Sonya Mann suggests that hiring processes are actually optimised for “hoop-jumping inclination and skill” instead of talent or potential. Second: even if hiring processes are demonstrated to yield an outcome no better than random selection, they’ll still be clutched tightly because humans need a narrative to intertwine with their perceptual and decision-making processes.
  4. Stalin, Putin and the Nature of Power by Lex Fridman/Stephen Kotkin: I’ve read the first volume and half the second volume of Kotkin’s biographical trilogy about Stalin. Fascinating works. This interview is good, too. Some standout ideas/moments… Marx wasn’t a theorist of inequality, he was a theorist of alienation; the use of the nuclear bomb as an analogy for Communism; incremental changes in the current (US) political system are better than attempting to break and rebuild the system as a whole.
  5. Geneva adopts what’s believed to be the highest minimum wage in the world: Interesting stuff, and part of an emerging trend in the most civilised parts of the world: raising the floor. These pair well with a Slate Star Codex post titled, Basic Income, Not Basic Jobs. The article argues against a now outdated policy proposal but actually provides a good summary of the many benefits of a universal basic income. FYI, I totally support the idea of basic income. The veil of ignorance is the key to understanding why.
  6. The Playbook: My second favourite sport, behind Brazilian jiu-jitsu, is basketball. That’s why I watched episode one of this series, featuring coach Doc Rivers. The segment that most resonated concerned how “pressure is a privilege”; playing for high stakes is an opportunity to be embraced, not shied away from.
  7. China Sells Minorities Into ‘Forced Labor’ to Benefit Apple, Foxconn, Others by Joel Hruska: Harrowing reading. Quote: “The report details how this massive system of relocation and forced labor has been built up under the guise of an aid program known as “Xinjiang Aid.” What appears superficially as a targeted aid program for the poor and undereducated people in the province is a relocation and reeducation program meant to destroy their culture and religious practices. Companies all over China have been encouraged to provide “industrial Xianjing aid” by building factories in the province to absorb what China terms “surplus labor capacity” or to hire Uighurs for other tasks in factories across the rest of China.”

The Magnificent Seven #12: The Fremen Mirage – 11/10/20

  1. The Fremen Mirage Series by Bret Deveraux: Frank Herbert’s Dune is experiencing a resurgence. Likely because of the recent movie trailer drop. This series by Deveraux offers a counter-point to one (amongst many) of Dune’s (and other cultural artefact’s) background assumptions; that, “Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And weak men create hard times.”
  2. An enabling act could happen here by David Allen Green: Green received A LOT of flak for posting this. The opposition he faced was totally unwarranted. This is a calm, collected discussion of an actual possibility. And I am not overstating the case. The UK is a country whose Home Secretary and Prime Minister publicly claim to oppose “do-gooders and lefty lawyers”. That is, the highest levels of UK government are opposed to those who assert the right of all people, EVERYONE, to be treated according to established human rights conventions. This is 2020: an enabling act could indeed happen here.
  3. Crime Ops: The Operational Art of Cyber Crime by The Grugq: This is exactly the sort of document I could’ve made use of while working on Barker. The Voice and the Hand of the Silent are clandestine groups of cultural activists/terrorists, respectively, and they share some of the characteristics of FIN7.
  4. The Duhem-Quine Thesis: “The Duhem–Quine thesis argues that no scientific hypothesis is by itself capable of making predictions. Instead, deriving predictions from the hypothesis typically requires background assumptions that several other hypotheses are correct — that an experiment works as predicted, or that previous scientific theory is accurate. For instance, as evidence against the idea that the Earth is in motion, some people objected that birds did not get thrown off into the sky whenever they let go of a tree branch. Later theories of physics and astronomy, such as classical and relativistic mechanics could account for such observations without positing a fixed Earth, and in due course they replaced the static-Earth auxiliary hypotheses and initial conditions.”
    I was reminded of this during the Slate Star Codex review of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions–specifically the section starting with: “Can we separate the fact around which a paradigm is based (like “the Earth orbits the sun”) from the paradigm itself (being a collection of definitions of eg “planet” and “orbit”, ways of thinking, mathematical methods, and rules for what kind of science will and won’t be accepted)?” 
    I’m also wondering whether these “paradigm bases” are analogous to hyperpriors (or conjugate priors)?
  5. “Why We Sleep” is Riddled with Scientific and Factual Errors by Alexey Guzey: I read this a while back and found myself revisiting it. Quote (absent some links and formatting): “In the process of reading the book and encountering some extraordinary claims about sleep, I decided to compare the facts it presented with the scientific literature. I found that the book consistently overstates the problem of lack of sleep, sometimes egregiously so. It misrepresents basic sleep research and contradicts its own sources. … Walker’s book has likely wasted thousands of hours of life and worsened the health of people who read it and took its recommendations at face value (Section 7).”
  6. State of GORUCK 2020 by Jason McCarthy: I keep an infrequent eye on GoRuck because I like their products (despite not having sufficient justification to buy much from them… Yet…). And I like their ethos. The latter is encapsulated in this post, which touches on the meta and the minutiae of GoRuck as a company. In general, I’m a fan of annual round-ups and addresses. WordPress does one each year. Ribbonfarm does one. Others obviously do them too. But GoRuck’s seems particularly open and honest.
    From a competitive standpoint, this appears nonsensical. Aren’t objectives, stratagems and trajectories meant to remain obscure to one’s competitors? Not necessarily. Enter Josh Waitzkin explaining Marcelo Garcia’s tendency to upload videos of his BJJ sparring: “[Marcelo] was visually showing these competitors what he was about to use against them at 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 4 weeks [away from competition], and his attitude about this was just completely unique: ‘If you’re studying my game, you’re entering my game, and I’ll be better at it than you.'”
  7. NBD: I tend to read multiple books simultaneously. This means that, when new book day comes around, I purchase multiple books simultaneously. This short post lists my most recent acquisitions (all of which I am so far enjoying).

The Magnificent Seven #11: Quarantine Fitness – 04/10/20

  1. Quarantine Fitness by Victor: To me, this is normative fitness–a mode of being that I aspire to yet am unlikely to reach. If I had to distil this article to a sentence it would be: Do what you can, where you are, with what you have*. The asterisk: You always have more, and can do more, than you think. 
  2. The Business of SaaS by Patrick McKenzie: I found my way to the Stripe guides via Slava Akhmechet’s Go-to-market strategy for engineers. I’m glad I did; I suspect the guides will come in useful in the near-future.
  3. Seeking the Productive Life by Stephen Wolfram: This came up in an email convo with a friend. I ref’d it because of the Full Nerd Mode images. On a more serious (less jackass-y) note, though; it’s fascinating to look into how different people approach their work. In this case, Wolfram is typically comprehensive.
  4. Red Team Rules: I find myself referencing these, or returning to them, every now and then. It’s no so much the letter of the law that I enjoy. It’s the spirit; it aligns with multiple instances of how I choose to perceive and try to act within the world. Example: “Simple and light equals freedom, agility and mobility.”
  5. Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden: I can see why my partner recommended this Russian fairy-slash-folk-tale trilogy. I finished it a few weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s possible to read deeper into the book’s themes–gender roles, paganism, and so on–but it’s also enjoyable as a good ol’ fantastical romp.
  6. The Cartel Trilogy by Don Winslow: I’ve read a few books about the drug troubles in Mexico–Saviano, Grillo etc.–but none drove home the heart-rending nature of this particular slice of reality like Winslow’s Cartel trilogy.
  7. Bikepacking vs Cycle Touring by Tom Allen: I am no hardcore cyclist. But as we transition into the darker and colder half of the year, I find myself reading about two-wheeled expeditions, odysseys and overnighters, as well as the difference between bikepacking and cycle touring. Hint: the difference is what’s emphasised by the two “tribes”. 

The Magnificent Seven #10: The Nature of Reality – 27/09/20

  1. Joscha Bach: Artificial Consciousness and the Nature of Reality with Lex Fridman: An IMMENSELY enjoyable conversation. So much ground is covered here and Joscha is an eminently wonderful guest and thinker. The transcript for the interview is available here. I also listened to Fridman’s talk with Daphne Koller (co-founder of Coursera who’s now getting into machine learning x biomedicine) and I’m making way through Ryan Hall’s appearance too. Hall is a BJJ maestro and an interesting guy in his own right.
  2. The Magnificent Archive by me: I finally got around to compiling the content from all previous editions of Mag7 and dropping it in an archive. In other news, I’ve entered a definite “cut” phase in my life. Certain constraints have re-imposed themselves (aka I’ve gone back to work) which means less time and energy to share around. As a consequence, expect to see a little less surface output (blogs etc.).
  3. Olight i3T: Yes, this is a torch. Back when I worked in security, I wielded a trusty LED Lenser T7. It was my companion as I crawled around perimeter fences in an attempt to ambush fence hoppers and as I searched a hilly woodland for a naked body hanging upside down from a tree–fortunately, I stumbled upon no fence hoppers and no bodies. Since then, I’ve had a Lenser P3 on my person most of the time. It died recently, however, and I made the switch to an Olight. I’m impressed thus far.
  4. The Prophet of the Revolt by Antonio Garcia Martinez: A Q&A with Martinez, author of Chaos Monkeys (which I have just added to my reading pipeline) and Martin Gurri, author of The Revolt of the Public. My favourite excerpt (among a few): “We are fractured creatures, trapped in a subjective perspective, but we are also symbolic animals, viscerally craving a meaning for our individual lives that is universally acknowledged and so transcends individuality. The purpose of the stories I mentioned before is to meld personal experience with social existence, and in this way make possible the production of shared meaning. The obvious question is why anyone should believe such stories. Well, William James, one of my favorite thinkers, and a psychologist, spoke of a “will to believe.” We are programmed to accept those stories that connect us, and our society, with the cosmic order. If you visit Jerusalem, you’ll find large crowds by the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Mosque of the Dome. That’s 2,500 years of belief guiding billions of individuals. And if you ask most Americans, myself included, they will tell you they believe all persons are created equal. Jefferson found that proposition “self-evident,” but really it’s a powerful act of faith in the face of a lot of contradictory evidence.”
  5. History of Philosophy, Summarised & Visualised: Crafted by Denis Cem OnduyguHüseyin Kuşçu and Eser Aygün, this is a remarkable overview of the history of philosophy. REMARKABLE. From the project’s About page: “I like to think that this is not just a historical project, useful for people specifically interested in the history of the field; what is also valuable here is the ability to see, by clicking on a sentence and displaying its connections, what different things can be said on a subject (how many perspectives there can be, which are hard to be all dreamed up by a single person) independently of who said them and when – independently of a direct interest in the history of philosophy (or “the history of ideas” in Bernard Williams’s sense).”
  6. Sky Ladder: The Art of Cat Guo-Qiang: Usually, I never manage to actually CHOOSE anything on Netflix. Several weeks ago, I did the unexpected; I selected this doc AND watched it all. Not only were that some remarkable visuals, there was also quite the collection of poignant moments. 
  7. Brutality of Life Reading List by Sonya Mann: If you’re in doubt regarding the first of the Four Noble Truths, check out one of the texts picked out by Sonya. The only one of the list I’ve read is Rory Miller’s Meditations on Violence. The highest praise I can give a book is that it changed my mind; Miller’s book did that.

The Magnificent Seven #9: Strange Loop – 20/09/20

  1. The strange loop of super active omittance: I wrote about an idea that’s been noodling me for a few days and riffed about SPOLFs and single wringable necks for Yak Talk.
  2. Scarcity as an API by Mario Gabriele: Note: I find the article interesting, but I don’t agree. Quote: “As tech and culture further co-mingle, we should expect more startups to follow MSCHF’s lead, using drops to win attention. In the process, programmatic methods may rise to contrive scarcity reliably, at scale, online. … We may live in an age of abundance, but with our sense of self tied to the proprietorship of rivalrous assets, scarcity will need to exist. Even if we must code it ourselves.”
  3. Terror and Technology From Dynamite to Drones by T.X. Hammes: A brief introduction to technological innovation’s impact on terrorism. The linked books look intriguing. John Robb’s Global Guerillas explores a similar track and is also worthy of inspection by the interested.
  4. Introduction to Strategy Mapping by Mike Baxter: I encountered Mike via the Yak Collective. Speaking about ideas related to my survey of business analysis, he sent me the linked video. He also has a new book out: The Strategy Manual.
  5. Dynamic at Home (Pt 2 and Pt 3) by Katy Bowman: I’m in the process of considering an attic/study redesign, so I’ve returned to Katy’s series on building a life around movement, instead of just squeezing it in. For those who struggle with major or minor movement-related issues, Katy is a great resource. In the same vein, she has a gear-guide to going furniture-free, and a post explaining why she did it.
  6. The Story Diamond by Stanley Williams: Any even remotely aspiring story crafter will look at this diagram and swoon. Not out of excitement but out of fear. “I have to figure all this out?” Fortunately not. My stance in regards to this diagram can be intuited from two successive lines of the Zen of PythonSimple is better than complex. / Complex is better than complicated.
  7. Fake Law by The Secret Barrister: I preordered this a while back. Reading it now is giving me a despair-induced stomach ache and a rage-induced headache. Chase this bitter brew with The Secret Barrister’s recent assertion that now is a better time than ever to be a criminal in the UK, Charles Stross showing us a German press’ caricature of the UK right now, a Level 2 media freedom alert issued to the UK by the Council of Europe, just one of many instances where the current UK government has leveraged pandemic panic to purchase faulty PPE from companies of chummy companions and The Atlantic’s explanation of Britain’s imminent humbling.

The Magnificent Seven #8: Fat Tails and Boring Edges – 06/09/20

  1. Fat tails and boring edges: I riffed on “focusing on the fat tails” in the context of tech stack entry and I contributed a piece called Emergent Infrastructure to this week’s Yak Talk. In Elements & Components of Product Management I completed the shortlist of business analysis ideas; now I’m shortlisting ideas from UI/UX. I’m also making my way through the second of Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy; it’s good.
  2. The CIA and MI6’s Secret War in Kenya (and Part 2): A few things jumped out. The use of language to dehumanise is one. A “capture” mission becomes a “law enforcement end-state” mission; a “kill” mission becomes a “military end-state” mission. The second is the tried-and-true tactic of provoking (or claiming) a threat in order to justify the use of lethal force. This seems to be a basic play in both foreign and domestic US operations. The third was this section: “There are US laws governing which foreign security services US government bodies can partner with. These include the Leahy Law, which requires human rights vetting of units slated for assistance, training or equipment. But the law only applies to the US military, the State Department and law enforcement agencies, former Washington director at Human Rights Watch, Sarah Margon, said. … Robert Etinger, former deputy general counsel at the CIA, told Declassified in an email that the law does not apply to the intelligence community.”
  3. Guido von Rossum: Python: A 1.5 hour interview with the Python programming language creator, Guido. Lex Fridman wanted to steer the conversation onto more philosophical, metaphysical tracks. Guido, who comes across as a toolmaker and craftsman interested mostly in those things alone, handled it well. I listened to this because I’m making my way through the Python tutorial and wanted some additional context. I got it. 
  4. Preparing for the end of the world as we know it: I don’t really know what to do with this article. It raises a lot of questions, most of them uncomfortable. For example: “Education, in its different modalities (formal, non-formal, informal, higher, alternative, etc.), has historically been tasked with steering learning towards objectives that secure human survival as well as the reproduction of cultural norms and ideals. However, this double mandate becomes paradoxical when the reproduction of dominant cultural ideals poses a threat to human survival. This paradox is illustrated by Luis Prádanos, who asked in a recent piece about the future of education: ‘[I]s it really smart to educate people to technologically and theoretically refine a system that operates by undermining the conditions of possibility for our biophysical survival?'”
  5. When engagement backfired: “It is easy for cosmopolitans like myself to plant themselves on the other side of the Pacific and have a grand time. Early connections with an opening China were sustained on the back of just those sorts of cosmopolitans: diplomats, journalists, exchange students, and adventurers would head to China from the West, and graduate students, the majority of whom were liberal in their sentiments, came to the West from China. But the sort of easy friendships cosmopolitan Chinese formed with cosmopolitans Westerners were poor guideposts for what would happen when more ‘normal’ people from inside and outside of China’s borders were mixed together.”
  6. Kurt Godel’s Brilliant Madness: I don’t know much about mathematics but I like reading about mathematicians. The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, a biography of Paul Erdos, is one of my favourites. The linked article is a long overview of Kurt Godel’s life. My favourite part: “Famously, prior to the examination — which generally regards the American system of government, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights — Gödel claimed to have found an inconsistency in the constitution. Worried that expounding on his idea might jeopardize Gödel’s application, Morgenstern and Einstein tried to distract Gödel from his discovery until the hearing began. According to Morgenstern, it did come up during the hearing…” Much of the article is sourced from Logical Dilemmas.
  7. Digital pregnancy test teardown: A terrific teardown thread by Foone. Favourite tweet: “This thing is probably faster at number crunching and basic I/O than the CPU used in the original IBM PC, and this one is in something you pee on and throw away.” There’s some interesting dynamics in later tweets as a result of the thread going rather viral. 

The Magnificent Seven #7: Plain English – 30/08/20

  1. Plain English: There are lots of how-tos and do-don’t lists for writing. This one is about as simple and as short as they come. I like it. I agree with it. That said, I won’t always comply with it.
  2. The End of Secularism is Nigh: This article recounts some of the ideas in Tom Holland’s DominionThe book itself was significant to me. I’d never considered the fact that, though I’m an atheist, I’m Christian by default. Much of the values and beliefs I hold dear are derived from Christianity. The article also got me wondering about the Overton window and how some beliefs constrain action while others un-limit it. 
  3. Cull and craft: This blog post describes a milestone in my Element & Components project as well as my assumption of another project related to agent-based modelling. Using the hash.ai toolstack, I’m going to attempt to build a simulation which will allow me to fool around with the dynamics of trust (de)generation. I say “attempt” because I’ve never coded before and to program the agents requires competence with Javascript or Python. Say a prayer for me as I slowly walk this road…
  4. Excessive standardisation of form: Following my entry into coding, questions about tools have arisen. But I viewed this observation (and the embedded thread) through the frame of writing. Personally, my writing turns out better when I begin with a handwritten outline or diagram/sketch. As a consequence, I’m making an effort to use my notebook more frequently. Bonus thread on physical workspaces and bonus article on upfront design in Agile software development.
  5. Would you try this? Humans are capable of some amazing things. Whether they should do them or not is an entirely different question. Watch the video. You’ll see what I mean.
  6. David Blaine on the Joe Rogan Experience: When it comes to podcasts, I tend to listen to none for a while and then watch / listen to multiple. This week, I watched David Blaine’s appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience. It’s probably one of the most fascinating interviews I’ve ever seen. Blaine’s enthusiasm, insight and awe; how he guides conversations and relays anecdotes; Rogan’s reactions; utterly absorbing. I also listened to James Nestor’s appearance, just to see if he talks about breath-related stuff that didn’t make it into his book. He did: turns out that stress from chewing/masticating doesn’t have the same effect on the nervous system compared to straight-up jaw clenching. 
  7. Books with unusual but brilliant structures: Need something to read? The blog post itself has a tonne of reccs, as does the Twitter thread linked within. 

The Magnificent Seven #6: Genius and Collaboration – 23/08/20

  1. Richard Feynman’s Advice to a Young Stephen Wolfram: I’m citing this because it has me thinking about a genius’ (in)ability to genius in the absence of collaboration. It seems that, no matter how other-worldly a person’s abilities are, we are better together than we are alone. 
  2. Half a House: The pictures got me, as did the concept: building half a house is an innovative way to do affordable housing. I found the conclusion saddening, however: “The biggest hurdle to an incremental building project working in the U.S. isn’t a matter of safety or legality, however. Stoloff believes the U.S. would view it as ‘an embarrassment.’ Even though we might end up providing more people with adequate housing, ‘we couldn’t do it—we’d lose face,’ says Stoloff.”
  3. Tolkien and the True History of Europe by Robert Kearney: I’ve read LOTR more times than I can count. It’s a work that’s been instrumental in my desire to write at all, and to write fiction in particular. And when I read that Tolkien’s magnum opus may be based on obscure historical literature? I fell in love with Tolkien’s work just a little bit more.
  4. Strength: This is the afterword to Ss, which I published just because. I wrote about the root of disagreement and I’ve progressed onto the project management section of my latest project. This week’s Yak Talk lays out some approaches to decarbonisation. I also gave my “about” page a much required spruce-up.
  5. 10 Years and 100 Reads: I’ve read Meditations myself, a fair number of times. Recently, I’ve come back to this passage. “…there are plenty of other things you can show: honesty, gravity, endurance, austerity, resignation, abstinence, patience, sincerity, moderation, seriousness, high-mindedness. Don’t you see how much you have to offer–beyond excuses like “can’t”? And yet you still settle for less.”
  6. Slate Star Codex Abridged: I’ve read very little SSC. But with the Abridged version being available as a PDF and the Kindle “convert” trick, I can now get around to it.
  7. The Last of the Hedgehogs: A piece about Rene Girard, inspired by the release of Cynthia Haven’s latest, The Prophet of Envy. I find Girard himself, let alone his ideas, fascinating. He’s a small giant of the last half-century. 

The Magnificent Seven #5: abc xyz (I forgot to title this one…) – 16/08/20

  1. Wrong vs Right Enemies: I came across a diagram from Nassim Taleb’s Principia Politica, a work-in-progress. It says that demonising “the rich” is incorrect; demonising predators, cronies and rent-seekers both rich and poor (as opposed to earners, entrepreneurs and protectors) is a better stance. I’m inclined to agree. I’m also inclined to believe that all of us need to define our enemies and, more mildly, our out-group. Just as Seneca advised us to have a positive model to measure ourselves against, it’s useful to have a negative model to measure up to.
  2. Surviving Autocracy by Masha Gessen: I’m halfway through this and it’s already painted a stark picture of the Anglosphere. It confirms that common sense tactics for refuting untruth, exposing incompetence and calling out immorality do not work in the context of 2020. I’m hoping a remedy is introduced later on… If one is not, however, I’ve found a more general approach in James Clavell’s Noble House. Faced with uncertainty, challenge and insider sabotage, tai-pan Ian Dunross decides upon a response: “Laugh and fight.”
  3. Simple Sabotage Field Manual by The CIA: Pay attention to the final section, titled General Interference with Organisations and Production. In an ideal world, you’ll read it and realise that neither yourself nor anyone you interact with does any of the things listed. Also, in line with the theme of sabotage, here’s a list of 17 disinformation techniques.
  4. Assumptions About Hunter-Gatherers by Manvir Singh: I’m one of those who assumed that hunter-gatherers lived in small, roaming bands with only basic hierarchies and minimal infrastructure. As Manvir explains, that’s not necessarily true.
  5. A Simple Plan for Repairing Our Society by Vinay Gupta: Incentivising the long-term over the short-term is perhaps the biggest issue when it comes to politics. As David Roberts has pointed out, the problem is never lack of resources; it’s lack of political will. And perhaps one way to aggregate the will required to begin solving global problems is to adopt Vinay’s suggestion: “You can look, situation by situation, rule by rule, law by law, and ask ‘am I harming these children?’ If the answer is yes, you don’t do that. The kids are profoundly collateral damage in the power struggles of the adults, and we’re using them like hostages all the time. But a cease fire could be arranged.”
  6. By me: In this week’s Yak Talk newsletter I wrote a speculative what-if that considered a more harmful version of a recent Twitter hack. I’ve also progressed in my Elements & Components of Product Management project. I’m now considering the big ideas associated with the software development life-cycle. Say hi if you can help me out.
  7. Scholar’s Stage: I haven’t read much of the material on this site (there’s a lot) but I’m plugging it for anyone interested in “the intersections of history, behavioral science, and strategic thought, with an emphasis on East and Southeast Asian affairs.” I’ll also plug two books I read a while ago: The Unspoken Way by Michihiro Matsumoto and Chinese Looking Glass by Dennis Bloodworth. Both provided Young Me with some basic ideas about these respective non-Western cultures.

The Magnificent Seven #4: Movement Matters – 09/08/20

  1. Waterrower: Someone on Twitter pointed me to these as a replacement for the world famous Concept2s. And oh boy, do I want one. 
  2. Intervention by Dan John: Since the pandemic, I’ve been training at home. But even when I wasn’t this book (and its ideas) have been at the heart of how I approach movement. Breaking movements down into push, pull, squat, hinge, carry and other is a gamechanger. So is the idea of quadrants. And I use that expression lightly when it comes to health and fitness. 
  3. Original Strength: More recently, I’ve rebuilt parts of my movement practice. Specifically, the warm up (prep) and everything that comes after the meat of a session (play). OS has a ridiculous repertoire to mine and combine to make movement fun again. 
  4. Kettlebells: Generic plug here. One of the best investments I’ve ever made is in my own set of ‘bells. I have eight or nine, from 8kg up to 36kg, but having even one or two knocking around is transformative, provided you can make using them a habit…
  5. Local / Global Maxima: A hint I read concerning meditation; play the game at a level you can win. In meditation, that often means taking it breath by breath. In health, fitness and movement, that means focusing on local instead of global maxima. Terrifically hard to do of course, but it mitigates most of the downside associated with fitness and allows you to access way more of the upside. 
  6. Breath by James Nestor: One of those books which gives me ideas I immediately want to try. Thus far, I’ve tried nasal breathing whilst swinging kettlebells and on a recent cycle. The latter was hard. I’m considering taping my mouth overnight to see if it stops me snoring, too. I’m sure I’ll try other things before the book is over. 
  7. The shape of a story: A snapshot of where I’m at with a current novella project. I’m also continuing to traipse the disciplines of UI and UX for critical ideas related to product management. 

The Magnificent Seven #3: Little Books, Feet and Slaveholders – 02/08/20

  1. Little Black Classics (01-80): A present from my nearest and dearest to celebrate the completion of Ss, my first short story collection. I read the first on Friday (an excerpt from Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron) and thoroughly enjoyed it. My intention is to read each of Classic cold, with no advance research of the context, and then do some digging before reading it once more. 
  2. Wild Toes + Lacrosse Ball: I spent years wearing various trainers whilst playing sports as a kid. I spent more years wearing smart, pointy shoes shift after shift in bars and restaurants. I now wear boots for 12+ hours at a time during my day job. Somewhere in the middle of all this I spent a year or so working in a gym, barefoot, and training Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Now there’s no going back. If I could, I’d be barefoot (or wear Vivo’s) all the time. I can’t so I use toe spreaders and a lacrosse ball to look after my foot health. (P.s. get a lacrosse ball for a quid on Amazon and instead of buying a beam from TFC, repurpose a scaffolding pole; that’s my plan.)  
  3. How slaveholders in the Caribbean maintained control: H/t to Michael Duda for sending this over. It’s a nice introduction to the tools of control and manipulation in society, but more importantly it reminded me of other locales in time and space. Soviet Gulags; Nazi concentration camps and Jewish ghettos; (aspiring) authoritarian regimes; countless offices and endless factories. Facilitating division, undermining trust, poisoning critical seams of community and connection. The context changes but the content of the playbook remains the same. Fortunately, so do the tools of resistance, rebellion and recovery. 
  4. The Münchhausen trilemma: This is the suggestion that the attempt to prove any truth comes up against one of three impediments–I won’t spoil them here, though. I’m thinking about this in combination with the idea of diminishing returns and in two separate contexts: introspection and decision making. No matter how deep I dig, I’ll never get to the bottom of my self. And even if I do, I’ll run into the munchy-tri. This means that, when it comes to decisions I have to make–and the inputs I have to consider, one of which is me–I will always have to act with faith. I cannot know yet I must still commit; thus I need faith. 
  5. The trauma floor: I remember a quip on Twitter (I can’t find it now, though). It was something like, Do you believe that the mind is separate from the body? Then hadn’t you better work out? A worthy shot at mind-body dualism. Similarly, after reading Zeynep Tufekci’s Twitter and Tear Gas, I thought of this article as an example that dissolves the persistent myth of cyber dualism (e.g. the “online” world isn’t “real”). 
  6. By me: I co-wrote the first instalment of a series called Chasing Tails for the Yak Collective’s weekly newsletter and I started populating the long-lists of my latest product-management-related project. I put out a public call for contributions here.
  7. Bel far niente: I’m reading Eat, Pray, Love and I came across this segment: “Bel far niente means ‘the beauty of doing nothing.’ Now listen–Italians have traditionally always been hard workers, especially those long-suffering laborers known as braccianti (so called because they had nothing but the brute strength of their arms–braccie–to help them survive in this world). But even against that backdrop of hard work, bel far niente has always been a cherished Italian ideal. The beauty of doing nothing is the goal of all your work, the final accomplishment for which you are most highly congratulated. The more exquisitely and delightfully you can do nothing, the higher your life’s achievement. You don’t necessarily need to be rich in order to experience this, either. There’s another wonderful Italian expression: l’arte d’arrangiarsi–the art of making something out of nothing. The art of turning a few simple ingredients into a feast, or a few gathered friends into a festival. Anyone with a talent for happiness can do this, not only the rich.”

The Magnificent Seven #2: Tech Effects – 26/07/20

  1. Last Chance U (Part 1): There was much above and beyond this series’ entertainment value. It reminded me of the effects of poverty at the molecular level. It got me thinking about the collapse of the middle class and how it’ll make “getting out” even harder. And it reminded me not to assign individuals the responsibility for structural defects of a system.
  2. By me: In response to a surprise package, I wrote about tolerating BS. As part of the ongoing pivot into product management, I compared PM’s components to the elements of writing fiction. I also co-wrote a piece about “the democratisation of simulation” for the Yak Talk newsletter.
  3. India, Jio and the Four Internets: It’s easy to think of the internet as one huge monolithic block. It isn’t. As this post demonstrated, it’s a series of competing ecosystems, a few of which make up the dominant majority. The reason I ended up reading this post was because I asked a friend how much software development traditions differ in the US in comparison to China. If anyone has insight on that question, let me know…
  4. Dostoevsky’s Notes: I’ve read a few novels by the Great Russian, so I’m not too surprised that his notetakings were bizarre and psychotic. It’s still beautiful to see, though. And it caused me to wonder whether I should move more of my workflow (particularly charting the elements of fiction) back to pen and paper. Not because I think it’ll be as good as Dostoevsky’s notes, but because thinking on paper is strangely satisfying.
  5. Growing Without Schooling: Austin Kleon’s a good dude and his continued interest in homeschooling (and educational methods in general) isn’t just beneficial to parents. In this post, he talks about the work of John Holt, links to his own favourite excerpts and includes the fully online back catalog of Growing Without Schooling mags. 
  6. Mouthbreathing Machiavellis Dream of a Silicon Reich: Not long after coming across NRx / dark enlightenment I read this somewhat old piece by Corey Pein. It has me conflicted. True, “visionaries” can just be re-upholstering the ideas and stances of historic dictators. But I’m also not cynical about technology and the developments it can bring (though I wouldn’t class myself as an optimist, either). Additionally, I read this Atlantic piece, supplemented it with a reminder from Vinay Gupta about what matters and explored the links in TV Tropes’ Ubermensch page.
  7. Be Impatient: Generally, I believe operating at a greater tempo is a good thing. That’s why I like indie publishing. It’s why I like blogging. It’s part of the fun of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Respond fast; act faster. This post has arguments in favour of speed in different contexts. However, there’s also arguments for incredible slowness. Perhaps it’s best to cultivate competence at both extremes.

The Magnificent Seven #1: Beginnings – 19/07/20

  1. James Clavell’s Asian Saga: due to a self-imposed book-buying embargo, I picked up The Asian Saga once more. I’d already read Shogun and Tai-Pan. I restarted Gai-Jin and finished it a few days ago. King Rat has started strong. The Saga is epic in scope and impressive in its detail. A discussion about it with my father also inspired the title of this newsletter project thing.
  2. Zeynep Tufecki’s Twitter and Tear Gas: We’re all trying to navigate a post-truth world. And a critical component of this world is the emergent movements enabled by technological advances. This book is about that. Zeynep is also a good Twitter follow.
  3. The Yak Collective’s The New Old Home Report: I found this report full of ideas and possibilities for reimagining work-home life. I was satisfied to find that I’d already adopted a few in my own life but more satisfied to find additional ideas to experiment with. I particularly enjoyed the segment on “How Homes Work”.
  4. From Payments to Armaments: this free-to-read article from the Financial Times is about Jan Marsalek, a COO who belongs in a gritty geo-strategic thriller novel. I didn’t read this because I’m interested in the hoo-ha about Wirecard (and cryptocurrencies in general). I read it because, in the theme of this War Dogs article, I was intrigued by just how far sheer audacity can take a person.
  5. Daniel Sinclair on the Uhgyur deportation video: Three things here. First, the video is terrifying. Second, Daniel’s investigation into the why and how of the video is cool to see unfold. Third, it raised a lot of questions in my mind concerning the dominant “it can’t happen here” sentiment and reminded me of a book called States of Denial.
  6. Vivo Barefoot’s Ultra III: I’m on to my third pair of these things. They’re great and have made every pair of “normal” shoes virtually unwearable in comparison. Once the toes spread it’s impossible not to notice them being squished together by traditional shoes…
  7. Paweł Czerwiński: Whilst trawling Unsplash for abstract artwork for Ss, I came across this fellow’s work. It’s mesmerising and beautiful and kind of haunting.