Thursday 1 December, 2022

Predictive Signology

You’ve heard of predictive policing, but how about this from Bath? And it was done long before the Queen died!

Thanks to Christopher Smart for the pic.


Quote of the Day

”War is capitalism with the gloves off.”

  • Tom Stoppard

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Mozart | Ruhe Sanft (Sleep Safely) | Mojca Erdmann

Link

This was new to me. It’s from Zaide. an unfinished opera by Mozart.


Long Read of the Day

If you’re puzzled about ‘blockchain’ then read this piece by Tim Bray — and relax. (The Andy Jassy to whom he refers in the first para is Amazon’s current CEO.)

At some point in mid-2016 I got hauled into a conversation with Andy Jassy. I can’t remember if it was video or f2f, can’t remember how many of his staff were there. There were four of us present who were senior techs, not Jassy staff. ¶

Andy is an outstanding communicator and was eloquent on this occasion. You have to understand that one of the most important parts of his job was listening to the CIOs and CTOs of huge enterprises explain their problems and concerns.

He said something like this: “All these leaders are asking me what our blockchain strategy is. They tell me that everyone’s saying it’s the future, the platform that’s going to obsolete everything else. I need to have a good answer for them. I’ll be honest, when they explain why it’s wonderful I just don’t get it. You guys got to go figure it out for us.”

Well, OK then. I can’t remember whether it was right there in the room or by email after a short caucus, we got back to Andy along the lines of “We mostly think it’s mostly bullshit and probably not strategic for AWS, but we’ll look harder.”

Before I move along, Dear Reader: There was a dead give-away in Andy’s presentation of the problem. I’ll get back to it later but do you see it?

Do read it. It’s great.

H/T to Charles Arthur, who spotted it first.


Building a PDP-11/70 Kit

If you’re a geek of a certain age, this is truly lovely. The DEC PDP11 was an iconic minicomputer on which many of my contemporaries cut their programming teeth. The one in my department was the size of a refrigerator and had the most compelling control panel with switches and blinkenlights! And it was so popular with students that it was hard to get any time on it.

Kieran Healey is Professor of Sociology at Duke University. His research is on the social organisation of exchange in human blood and human organs, cultural goods, software, and ideas. But in the pandemic he found that he had an interest in reviving old computers. And then he discovered that Oscar Vermeulen makes a fabulous little kit called the PiDP-11. It is a 6:10 scale replica of the PDP-11/70’s front panel. You assemble the board connect it to a Raspberry Pi via the Pi’s GPIO port. It runs some software that emulates the PDP’s operating system. The switches and LEDs and so on all function just as they would on the real machine. So he got one of the kits and set to work.

The blog post is an account of how he did it. And it includes a nice video of the device in action, sitting on a bookcase in his office. And he signs off with a nice message: “If anyone needs me, I’ll be running the inventory and payroll of a medium-sized business in 1974.”

Which indeed is what you could do with a PDP11 in the mid-1970s!


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Wednesday 30 November, 2022

Into the Light


Quote of the Day

”I believe in the Church, the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; and nowhere does it exist.”

  • William Temple, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1942 (and was an outspoken advocate of social reform).

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Eric Clapton | San Francisco Bay Blues

Link


Long Read of the Day

 Why Meta’s latest large language model survived only three days online

Lovely piece by Will Douglas Heaven on the incurable tech hubris that surrounds all big machine-learning ‘language’ models.

On November 15 Meta unveiled a new large language model called Galactica, designed to assist scientists. But instead of landing with the big bang Meta hoped for, Galactica has died with a whimper after three days of intense criticism. On November 18 the company took down the public demo that it had encouraged everyone to try out. Like all language models, Galactica turned out to be “a mindless bot that cannot tell fact from fiction”.

It’s an interesting read, if only because it highlights the ability of smart and highly-paid software engineers to believe nonsense.


A mathematical puzzle

Why were these Chinese students protesting with a set of equations? What could it mean?

Answer: they’re the Friedmann equations which, as Wikipedia explains, are

“a set of equations in physical cosmology that govern the expansion of space in homogeneous and isotropic models of the universe within the context of general relativity. They were first derived by Alexander Friedmann in 1922 from Einstein’s field equations of gravitation for the Friedmann–Lemaître–Robertson–Walker metric and a perfect fluid with a given mass density ρ and pressure p.

Or might these clever students be saying “I am a freed man”?

Thanks to Alex Tabarrok for the link.


My commonplace booklet

 How gaslighting came to encapsulate the spirit of 2022

If you’re puzzled by the popularity of this word, then join the club. But Quartz has an explanation.

Gaslighting is not a new word—but it’s one that people have taken newfound interest in this year.

In 2022, searches for “gaslighting” increased 1740% year-on-year, according to Merriam-Webster. “In this age of misinformation—of ‘fake news,’ conspiracy theories, Twitter trolls, and deepfakes—gaslighting has emerged as a word for our time,” the American publisher, well known for its dictionary, noted while announcing it as the word of the year.

According to Miriam-Webster, a well-known American dictionary compiler, it means:

  1. psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.
  2. the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage.

In other words, common practice on social media.


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Tuesday 29 November, 2022

The Way In…

… to the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen.


Quote of the Day

”I went to Vietnam to take the train. People have done stranger things to that country.”

  • Paul Theroux, 1975

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Lauridsen | O Magnum Mysterium | Nordic Chamber Choir

Link

Eerily beautiful. I’ve often heard it in the background of radio broadcasts and wondered what it was. Now I know.


Long Read of the Day

 Gone Bad, Come to Life

Extraordinary (and revelatory) reflections by Justin E.H. Smith on fermentation, distillation, sobriety — and ‘bucket lists’. Sample:

Is any product of bourgeois consumer ideology more noxious than the “bucket list”? At just the moment a person should be adjusting their orientation, in conformity with their true nature, to focus exclusively on the horizon of mortality, they are rudely solicited one last time, before it’s really too late, for a final blow-out tour of the amusement parks and spectacles that still held out some plausible hope of providing satisfaction back in ignorant youth, when life could still be imagined to be made up of such things. “Travel is a meat thing”, William Gibson wrote, to which we might add that the quest for new experiences in general is really only fitting for those whose meat is still fresh.

But our economic order cannot accept this. Capitalism obscures from view first the meaning of life, which properly understood is a preparation for death, and then it obscures the meaning of death, which properly understood is the all-surrounding horizon of a mortal life. Instead it portrays life as an opportunity to go to amusement parks and accumulate novelty foam hats and so on, which is silly enough, but then, at the end of it all, it has the audacity to portray death itself as an event of life, at which you would do best to arrive with all the right “souvenirs” (what a word: memory congealed into artifact!), all the right photos of the Grand Canyon or your Kenyan safari or whatever stored for you in your personal space in the “cloud”… stored for whom, now? For what? I will not venture any dogmatic claims here about the existence or non-existence of an afterlife, whether conceived as infinite duration or as a state outside of time.

What I will say, with as much certainty as I have about anything, is that death is not an event of life, it is not something you pass through and then keep going, and it certainly is not going to matter to you, when you’re dead, if you ever rode a camel or not. It might matter whether you loved another person with all your heart, whether you attained any lucidity about your mortal condition or only lived like a puffed-up fool (you will certainly not be riding your camel through the eye of any needle); it will not matter whether you fed a watermelon to a hippopotamus.

Amazing philosopher, who always comes up with something unexpected.


Mastodon’s Moment

An interesting conversation about comparing Twitter and Mastodon between two experienced journalists — Julia Angwin and Adam Davidson, who has set up a Mastodon server for hacks.

Sample:

Angwin: Can you talk more about how the platforms differ?

Davidson: I think the interface on Mastodon makes me behave differently. If I have a funny joke or a really powerful statement and I want lots of people to hear it, then Twitter’s way better for that right now. However, if something really provokes a big conversation, it’s actually fairly challenging to keep up with the conversation on Twitter. I find that when something gets hundreds of thousands of replies, it’s functionally impossible to even read all of them, let alone respond to all of them. My Twitter personality, like a lot of people’s, is more shouting.

Whereas on Mastodon, it’s actually much harder to go viral. There’s no algorithm promoting tweets. It’s just the people you follow. This is the order in which they come. It’s not really set up for that kind of, “Oh my god, everybody’s talking about this one post.” It is set up to foster conversation. I have something like 150,000 followers on Twitter, and I have something like 2,500 on Mastodon, but I have way more substantive conversations on Mastodon even though it’s a smaller audience. I think there’s both design choices that lead to this and also just the vibe of the place where even pointed disagreements are somehow more thoughtful and more respectful on Mastodon.

Interesting throughout. And squares with my impression of Mastodon.


My commonplace booklet

From Quentin’s blog:

Someone on Mastodon pointed out a useful thing today:

One mile per gallon is exactly the same thing as one furlong per pint.

So if anyone quotes their fuel consumption in furlongs-per-pint, you’ll now know what it means. Pleasingly, this works even in America.

Once you’ve impressed your friends at the pub with that one, you can point out that one mile per gallon is about 3 leagues per firkin.


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Monday 28 November, 2022

Morning has broken

Early morning at Dartington Hall, where we spent the weekend (as we generally try to do whenever we’re in Devon). It’s a wonderful place, with a fascinating history which is well recounted by Michael Young in his book, The Elmhirsts of Dartington.


Quote of the Day

”The stoical scheme of supplying our wants by lopping off our desires, is like cutting off our feet when we want shoes.”

  • Jonathan Swift, 1711

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez | Chimes of Freedom

Link


Long Read of the Day

Building Fast and Slow: The Empire State Building and the World Trade Center

The astonishing story, told by Brian Potter, of how one of the modern world’s iconic buildings was constructed — on time and within budget.

The Empire State Building and the World Trade Center make for an interesting comparison. In many ways, they’re similar. They’re both iconic Manhattan skyscrapers (they were built just 3 miles apart) that sit right next to each other in the sequence of “world’s tallest building”. Both started out as projects aimed at creating (among other things) a large amount of commercial office space, and were later nudged by their owners into becoming the world’s tallest building. Both were completed in the midst of a severe economic downturn (the Great Depression and the 1973 Oil Shock, respectively), and took many years to be fully occupied. The Empire State Building would be only partially occupied through the 1930s (making money largely from visitors to the observation deck), and the owners were only saved from bankruptcy because the lender (MetLife) didn’t want the building. It wouldn’t start to turn a profit until after WWII. Similarly, the World Trade Center didn’t reach full occupancy in 1980. In both cases the building owners had to coerce government agencies to use much of the available space.

They also share an architectural genealogy – the architect of the World Trade Center, Minoru Yamasaki, had worked for several years at Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon, the architectural firm that designed the Empire State Building.

But in many ways they’re different. The Empire State Building is often the first example reached for by those nostalgic for an America that builds. Not only was it built impossibly fast by modern standards (less than a year from setting the first column to being completed), but it came in under budget, with its design becoming a widely praised example of Art Deco architecture.

The World Trade Center, on the other hand, was continuously mired in controversy and difficulty. It was slowed by lawsuits from displaced residents, political opposition from both New York and New Jersey, difficult site conditions, union strikes, and novel building systems and construction methods. From its conception in 1961 (and arguably even earlier) the project took more than 10 years to complete, going far over its planned schedule and budget.

Probably because I have an engineering background I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories. (One of my favourite books is David McCullough’s  Great Bridge, a riveting account of how the Brooklyn Bridge was built.)


Alexa, how did Amazon’s voice assistant rack up a $10bn loss?

Sometimes, invasions don’t work out as well as you hoped.

Yesterday’s Observer column:

Intrigued by an Ars Technica post about Amazon’s Alexa that suggested all was not well in the tech company’s division that looks after its smart home devices, I went rooting in a drawer where the Echo Dot I bought years ago had been gathering dust. Having found it, and set it up to join the upgraded wifi network that hadn’t existed when I first got it, I asked it a question: “Alexa, why are you such a loss-maker?” To which she calmly replied: “This might answer your question: mustard gas, also known as Lost, is manufactured by the United States.” At which point, I solemnly thanked her, pulled the power cable and returned her to the drawer, where she will continue to gather dust until I can think of an ecologically responsible way of recycling her…

Read on


My commonplace booklet

What is it with so-called ‘luxury’ wristwatches? Every weekend the Financial Times’s ‘How to Spend It’ supplement is full of advertisements for analogue timepieces costing half the GNP of smallish countries. Even more puzzling: some of these watches are billed as diver’s watches, waterproof down to formidable depths and pressures. But none of their wearers known to me has ever dived deeper than the average swimming pool.

A similar thing applies to fancy ‘aviator’ timepieces. A friend wears one made by Breitling which costs over five grand, and I know for sure that he doesn’t have a pilot’s licence. He may have logged a lot of hours in the air, but all of it has been in First or Business class.

So there’s no utilitarian rationale for these watches, which basically means that they’re just male jewellery.


Errata

There were two missing links last week.

  1. The NYT report by Cade Metz and Ian Clontz on Tesla and the future of autonomous vehicles was here.
  2. The link for Nancy Sinatra’s boots was here.

Apologies for both.


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Alexa, how did Amazon’s voice assistant rack up a $10bn loss?

Sometimes, invasions don’t work out as well as you hoped.

This morning’s Observer column:

Intrigued by an Ars Technica post about Amazon’s Alexa that suggested all was not well in the tech company’s division that looks after its smart home devices, I went rooting in a drawer where the Echo Dot I bought years ago had been gathering dust. Having found it, and set it up to join the upgraded wifi network that hadn’t existed when I first got it, I asked it a question: “Alexa, why are you such a loss-maker?” To which she calmly replied: “This might answer your question: mustard gas, also known as Lost, is manufactured by the United States.” At which point, I solemnly thanked her, pulled the power cable and returned her to the drawer, where she will continue to gather dust until I can think of an ecologically responsible way of recycling her…

Read on

Friday 25 November, 2022

A souvenir of the dry season…

…when we longed for rain to rescue our parched lawn. (Which is now almost waterlogged.)


Quote of the Day

”Maybe Napoleon was wrong when he said we were a nation of shopkeepers… Today, England looked like a nation of goalkeepers.”

  • Tom Stoppard

Somehow appropriate during a World Cup.


Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Liam O’Flynn, Neil Martin, Seán Keane, Matt Molloy & Arty McGlynn | Gradam Ceoil TG4 1999

Link

The set (recorded in the Town Hall theatre, Galway) consists of: An Buachaill Caol Dubh (Air 0:00), Caisleán an Óir (Hornpipe 1:54), Paddy Fahey’s (Reel 3:47), The Pinch of Snuff (Reel 5:05) & The Fair-Haired Boy (Reel 5:48)


Long Read of the Day

Putting ideas into words

Thoughtful essay by Paul Graham.

Writing about something, even something you know well, usually shows you that you didn’t know it as well as you thought. Putting ideas into words is a severe test. The first words you choose are usually wrong; you have to rewrite sentences over and over to get them exactly right. And your ideas won’t just be imprecise, but incomplete too. Half the ideas that end up in an essay will be ones you thought of while you were writing it. Indeed, that’s why I write them.

Once you publish something, the convention is that whatever you wrote was what you thought before you wrote it. These were your ideas, and now you’ve expressed them. But you know this isn’t true. You know that putting your ideas into words changed them. And not just the ideas you published. Presumably there were others that turned out to be too broken to fix, and those you discarded instead.

E.M. Forster said somewhere that there are two kinds of writer: those who know what they think and write it; and those who find out what they think by trying to write it.

I’m the latter type. Which are you?

Paul Graham says he’s never known anyone in the first category, and if he met someone who claimed to qualify “it would seem evidence of their limitations rather than their ability”.

I’ve known three people who could write their thoughts in complete, coherent sentences. One is a distinguished historian; the second was a literary critic; and the third was a former British cabinet minister. A trio of rare birds.


What Riding in a Self-Driving Tesla Tells Us About the Future of Autonomy

Terrific NYT report by Cade Metz and Ian Clontz, who spent a day in a ‘self-driving’ Tesla in Jacksonville, Florida. What it tells us about “the future of autonomy” is that it’s a long way off. Regular readers will know that that squares with my views. But it’s fascinating to see it in action. Great multimedia reporting. Hope they had good life-insurance.


My commonplace booklet

And, yes, it’s a Dodo.

From Private Eye.


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Thursday 24 November, 2022

EV charging, Riga

And the date when this was taken? July 2017. Makes you think about how ‘advanced’ the UK was then.


Quote of the Day

”Russia: a gas station masquerading as a country.”

  • John McCain (RIP)

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Antonio Forcione | Scrambled Eggs

Link

Good tune for breakfast, though I prefer mine with smoked salmon.


Long Read of the Day

The Shock and Aftershocks of “The Waste Land”

Lovely New Yorker essay by Anthony Lane.

May is the merriest month, and there are few more cheering journeys than a train ride into the green wilds of Sussex, in southern England. And no destination is more peaceable than Charleston, the secluded house, wreathed with gardens, that found fame as a rural HQ of the Bloomsbury Group. Now a place of pilgrimage, it continues to summon writers and artists, with audiences to match. Here it was, for a festival in May, that the culture-hungry came. Drifting in their dozens past fruit trees and congregations of flowers, they entered a large tent, where the trappings of Bloomsbury-scented comfort were on sale: straw hats, cushions, padded Alice bands, and vials of Sussex Rose Aromatic Water for the soothing of high or fevered brows. We took our seats for the arrival, on a raised dais, of Benedict Cumberbatch. He it was whom the pilgrims had travelled to see, and this is what he had to say:

April is the cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain.

There was more, and worse. “White bodies naked on the low damp ground / And bones cast in a little low dry garret.” And this: “Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit.” And again: “In this decayed hole among the mountains / In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing / Over the tumbled graves.” What had we done, in the sun-warmed paradise of Charleston, to deserve all these mountains, bones, and teeth? So much death, on a day that promised such life!

Cumberbatch was, needless to say, reading T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” which will shortly celebrate its hundredth birthday…

Read on. It’s good.


My commonplace booklet

A Letter to Nancy Sinatra from Her Boots That Were Made for Walking

by John Moe in McSweeney’s

January 23, 1966

Hi Nancy!

First of all, GREAT song. Honestly, Lee Hazlewood’s melody and lyrics, your spunky vocal. No wonder it’s such a hit. You deserve it!

And as your footwear, I am excited to be a part of the collaboration. I have loved performing with/on you in Vegas and meeting big stars like Joey Bishop and Dean Martin. Of course, you were the one that actually met them, but if they had looked down they would have seen me. I tried talking to some of their shoes. Peter Lawford’s loafers, Sammy’s ankle boots. But they never said anything in response because footwear is not sentient. Except me. That’s why you speak to me in that song—Hello! I’m your boots!

I’m writing to explain my existential terror and apologize for my abysmal performance…

Read on!


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Wednesday 23 November, 2022

Danish pastry croissant

Breakfast in the Royal Library in Copenhagen with Olafur Eliasson’s Cirkelbroen (Circle Bridge) in the background.


Quote of the Day

”It’s as though Musk has taken Facebook’s “Move fast and break things” motto and reduced it to “Break everything fast.” Last night, reports of mass resignations inside Twitter seemed so dire that Twitter itself seemed to be documenting its own demise, like HAL 9000 singing “Daisy”, ever more degenerately slurred, near the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I lost count of how many of the people I follow were seemingly posting what they expected, last night, to be their last-ever tweets.”

  • Jon Gruber

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Joseph Haydn | Partita in G major, Hob.XVI:6 (1766) | Igor Petrov

Link


Long Read of the Day

The Shortest Night of the Year

Nice essay by Dorthe Nor. It’s an extract from her book, A Line in the World: A Year on the North Sea Coast.

Midsummer. The pace of growth can’t keep this up. The corn is turning from green to golden, and everything draws energy from the sun. Today is the longest day. The shortest night lies ahead.

I walked in the heat from the rented cabin on the top of Skallerup Dune, around forty miles south of the northernmost tip of the country, down to the water, amid the scent of rosehips, Rosa rugosa, sweetbriar roses, dog roses, roses everywhere. The soil is fat and damp. Yellow water lilies grow in the hollows. Sediment deposited in the Ice Age continues all the way down to the water’s edge; the dunes have verdant skin. On the beach, there are preparations for a Midsummer’s Eve bonfire. Some children, it must have been, have made a witch with stiff broomstick arms and a wild look in her felt-tip eyes.

It’s the time of year when we burn a female doll. It’s a tradition, an annual thing in Denmark, an act that has clicked into place. We Danes are more or less in agreement: all of this is a game we play. Burning the evil has its roots in ancient rituals and seventeenth century witches at the stake—we can agree on that too. But it’s only in the past century that the ritual has come into fashion, and whether it’s a cosy custom or a problem is something to be discussed over strawberries picked for the celebration. She will be burned…

Read on.


My commonplace booklet

From Andrew Curry’s splendid blog:

One of his readers responded to his piece on ‘The Waste Land’ with a story about T.S. Eliot reading the poem to the British Royal Family at Windsor Castle during the Second World War, prompted by the writer and critic A.N. Wilson in an interview with Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother:

Elizabeth: “We had this rather lugubrious man in a suit, and he read a poem. . . . I think it was called ‘The Desert.’ And first the girls got the giggles, and then I did and then even the King.”

Wilson: “ ‘The Desert,’ ma’am? Are you sure it wasn’t called ‘The Waste Land?’ ”

Elizabeth: “That’s it. I’m afraid we all giggled. Such a gloomy man, looked as though he worked in a bank, and we didn’t understand a word.”

Wilson: “I believe he did once work in a bank.”

“I couldn’t help but wonder”, writes Andrew, “if Eliot might have been trolling the Royals a little. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats had been published in 1939, and he must have known that these poems would have played better than ‘The Waste Land’ with the extremely middlebrow Windsors”.

Having listened a few times to recording of Eliot himself reading the poem, I’m always struck by how lugubrious it is, so I can understand why the royals were first baffled and then amused by the incongruity of it all. For me, it first came alive when I got on my iPad Fiona Shaw’s reading which had been produced by Max Whitby, a brilliant film-maker and TV producer.


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Tuesday 22 November, 2022

59 years ago today…

…he was murdered. I can still remember where I was when I heard the news. I guess many of you can too.


Quote of the Day

”What has made football so uniquely effective a medium for inculcating national feelings is that the imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of 11 named people.”

  • Eric Hobsbawm

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Liam O’Flynn, Arty McGlynn, Christy Moore and Rod McVey | The Point, Dublin | 1997

Link

Four great musicians.


Long Read of the Day

 #RIPTwitter

Insightful obituary by Nancy Baym of Microsoft Research, taking apart Elon Musk’s crackpot assertion that “At its heart, Twitter is a software and servers company.” She argues — correctly IMO — that social-network platforms are not just technical architecture but also “the relations among a number of elements” which include the people who have used, and sometimes depended on, it. And also,

the communicative or expressive content – and here Twitter truly excelled. Even as it burned, it’s never been funnier. “Are we really gonna tweet through the end of Twitter?” asked one tweeter. “This is a good dry run for the end of the world” joked another. The norms and understandings of these practices have never been well aligned, which has caused untold conflict on Twitter, and in many ways that conflict has also been the heart of what made Twitter Twitter.

Thoughtful, and worth reading.


Books, etc.

How to Stand Up to a Dictator

My Observer review  of Maria Ressa’s book.

The Filipino-American Maria Ressa may physically be a diminutive figure (5ft 2in in stockinged feet) but she is a moral giant. In 2021, she was one of two journalists (the other being the Russian Dmitry Muratov) to be awarded the Nobel peace prize for their efforts to “safeguard freedom of expression” in their respective countries. She thus joins two other journalists in a select pantheon of earlier winners: the Yemeni Tawakkol Karman, who shared the prize with two other women in 2011, and the German reporter Carl Ossietzky, who was honoured in 1935 for his reporting of German rearmament under Hitler. Ossietzky was unable to collect his prize because the regime refused him permission to travel to Norway, and he died in 1938 after enduring years of torture and mistreatment in Nazi concentration camps.

Ressa was given the award for her fearless reporting of the corruption and brutality of the Duterte regime in the land of her birth, the Philippines. If the president of that unfortunate country had concentration camps at his disposal, she would assuredly be in one of them. In their absence, the regime has had to be content with convicting her for a crime she did not commit (based on an article she did not write, under a “cyberlibel” offence that did not yet exist), and issuing 10 arrest warrants. If found guilty of these other charges, her lawyer tells her, she could go to jail for more than a century. Since 2018, she has been wearing a bulletproof vest when on the road.

Her book is part autobiography and part manifesto…

Read on


Explaining the FTX racket in metaphorical terms

Lovely blog post by Alex Tabarrok

Here’s my high-level explanation of the FTX crash.

Imagine that I own a house and I create a million coins representing the value of the house. I give half of the coins to my wife. I then sell one of my coins to my wife for $10. Now the house has a nominal value of $10 million dollars and my wife and I each have assets worth $5 million. Of course, no one is likely to buy my house for $10 million or lend me money based on my coin wealth but suppose I now get my friend Tyler to buy a coin for $15. Tyler says why would I want to buy your s!@# coin! To encourage Tyler to buy I give him a side-deal that is not very public. Say an extra 5% of our textbook royalties. Tyler buys the coin for $15. Now the coins have gone up in value by 50%. My wife and I each have $7.5 million. Other people may want to get in while they can—Tyler bought in! Are you in? I’m in!

Now if it’s not obvious, I am SBF in the analogy, and my wife is Alameda run by his sometimes girlfriend Caroline Ellison. Who is Tyler?—the seeming outsider who gets a kind of under-the-table deal to pump SBF’s coins? One possibility, is Sequoia a venture capitalist firm who invested in FTX, SBF’s house, while at the same time FTX invested in Sequoia. Weird right? Tyler in this example is also a bunch of firms that Alameda invested in but which were then required to keep their funds at FTX. Many other possibilities exist.

Another relevant point to our analogy is that there are one million coins but only a handful of them are traded, the handful that are traded are called the float. Similarly, many crypto coins were created with emissions schedules where only a few coins were released, the float, with a majority of the coins “locked” and only released over time. Keeping the price high, and thus the imputed value of the stock high, meant you only had to control the float…

It goes on, and it’s instructive.


My commonplace booklet

Understanding your dog

I’m not a dog person, but if I were I’d read this.


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Monday 21 November, 2022

Hot stuff

We have a new wood-burning stove, and our cat approves of it.


Quote of the Day

”Windbags can be right. Aphorists can be wrong. It is a tough world.”

  • James Fenton

There’s hope for me yet.


Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Ben Harper | Please Me Like You Want To

Link

I wonder if he ever doesn’t sound lugubrious.


Long Read of the Day

Farewell, My Lovely  The New Yorker

E.B. White’s paen of praise to his Ford Model T, published in the New Yorker in 1936. It’s a beautiful — and sometimes hilarious — essay, which delighted this recovering petrolhead. And in certain respects reminded him of his Tesla which — like Henry Ford’s car and Robert Louis Stevenson’s donkey — has an unfathomable mind of its own. Which is why her name is Modestine. (Tesla allows — nay encourages — owners to name their vehicles.)

I see by the new Sears Roebuck catalogue that it is still possible to buy an axle for a 1909 Model T Ford, but I am not deceived. The great days have faded, the end is in sight. Only one page in the current catalogue is devoted to parts and accessories for the Model T; yet everyone remembers springtimes when the Ford gadget section was larger than men’s clothing, almost as large as household furnishings. The last Model T was built in 1927, and the car is fading from what scholars call the American scene—which is an understatement, because to a few million people who grew up with it, the old Ford practically was the American scene.

It was the miracle God had wrought. And it was patently the sort of thing that could only happen once. Mechanically uncanny, it was like nothing that had ever come to the world before. Flourishing industries rose and fell with it. As a vehicle, it was hard-working, commonplace, heroic; and it often seemed to transmit those qualities to the persons who rode in it. My own generation identifies it with Youth, with its gaudy, irretrievable excitements; before it fades into the mist, I would like to pay it the tribute of the sigh that is not a sob, and set down random entries in a shape somewhat less cumbersome than a Sears Roebuck catalogue…

Do read it. You won’t be disappointed, even if you’re not a petrolhead.


Elon Musk needs to learn that more debate does not mean more truth

Yesterday’s Observer column:

Underpinning Musk’s views about free speech and the public sphere (AKA town square) is the fatuous metaphor of “the marketplace of ideas” that emerged from the deliberations of the US supreme court in 1953 (though something like it was mooted by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes way back in 1919). It suggests that ideas compete with each other in a conceptual marketplace where they can be critically evaluated by every individual. As law professor David Pozen and others have pointed out, there’s no empirical evidence that a larger volume of speech, or a more open “marketplace” of ideas, tends to lead people away from falsity and towards truth. Subscribing to the metaphor is thus either a matter of faith or of evidence-free credulity. And if Musk believes that it is the secret sauce for managing Twitter then he’s a bigger crackpot than even I thought.

Do read the whole thing.


Books, etc.

My esteemed colleague, the economist Diane Coyle, runs what is, IMO, the best book blog in the world. Every year she chooses her economics ‘book of the year’. This year, the prize is shared by two authors: Brad DeLong for his *Slouching Towards Utopia and James Bressen for The New Goliaths. Since I’d already read DeLong’s book and hadn’t known about the Bessen I decided to investigate it further. It looks really interesting (it’s about why some companies get so far ahead of others) but before jumping in I was struck by an earlier book of his —  Learning by Doing: The Real Connection Between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth, partly because it addresses a question that has always puzzled me: how is knowledge transmitted from person to person. So I’ve ordered that and am looking forwards to it. In the meantime, Diane’s two winners each qualify for a free lunch.


Chart of the Day

Shipping container rates are now back to where they were before the pandemic. Is this a good thing? I’m reminded of a Christmas 15 years ago, when one of my sons needed a new overcoat (not an anorak). So we went to Debenhams, then a busy Department Store, now defunct. I sat in the relevant department while he tried on various coats. Out of curiosity I started to examine the Christmas goods on display, and to my astonishment I found that every single item in the department had been made in China.


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