Apple upgrade madness

I’ve learned from experience not to upgrade immediately whenever Apple releases a new version of iOS. As far as iOS 13 is concerned, this seems to have been wise. Here’s The Inquirer‘s summary of the state of play up to today:

iOS 13, which brought with is such niceties as Dark Mode and ‘Sign in with Apple’, was only released on 19 September, but has already seen two updates: 13.1 on 25 September, and 13.1.1 two days later. Now, it’s getting 13.1.2: very much the equivalent of a file named “final final FINAL version.doc” in the vague hope that nomenclature will make the madness end.

The gaming of Medium by clickbait merchants

From an interesting post by Simon Owens asking Will 10 million people pay for personal essays?.

Last week I posted a tweet thread that you should check out. It starts with a screen capture of a headline for an article that appeared behind Medium’s paywall. This article fits into a content category that I’ve noticed is proliferating on Medium. It’s what I call “shitty personal advice column.”

In fact, anytime I see someone bragging about how much money they’re making through Medium’s partnership program — which allows users to place their content behind its paywall and get paid for the amount of engagement it generates — I then click on their user profile to see what kind of articles this person is regularly producing, and it almost always falls under this category. Often, the person is publishing upward of two or three articles a day, with each headline over-promising and under-delivering on its premise.

And this makes sense. If you’re going to make real money on a platform that’s doling it out based on the amount of engagement it receives, you’ll need to produce a high volume of low calorie articles that require very little original research and contain clickable headlines.

It’s the old story: anything with that kind of business model can be gamed.

A while back I became tired of getting emails from Medium highlighting apparently interesting posts that, however, lay behind the site’s paywall — i.e. they were only available to Medium ‘members’ (people who pay $50/year for the privilege). So, in a moment of weakness, I signed up. Big mistake.

I’ve cancelled my ‘membership’ (which, to their credit, they make it easy to do). But I’ve still blown $50 for no good purpose. Sigh. One born every minute :-(

The twin architects of political destruction

The Economist has a very perceptive piece comparing Seamus Milne, Jeremy Corbyn’s extreme-left consigliere, and Dominic Cummings, who apparently provides analogous services to Boris Johnson. It starts by noting that the two have quite a lot in common.

Both have spent their lives hanging around the fringes of power preparing for this moment—Mr Milne as a long-time journalist with the Guardian (and, long ago, for a short time with The Economist) and Mr Cummings as a Conservative special adviser and leader of the Vote Leave campaign. And they are both revolutionaries who despise the British establishment and believe that the country needs to be turned upside down.

On the other hand, they come from very different backgrounds. Milne is a child of the Establishment: his father was Director-General of the BBC and he went to a fancy public school and then to Balliol College, Oxford. (The Economist piece fails to mention that one of the reasons for Milne’s life-long hatred of the Establishment might be the way his father was brutally sacked by agents of Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister.) Cummings comes from a more humble background, but was upwardly mobile — marrying the only daughter of a Knight who owns a castle in Northumberland.

The Economist’s view that Cummings is much more of an original thinker than Mr Milne is, I think accurate. Like me, the writer of the piece has been reading Cummings’s blog. He has, as the Economist notes,

constructed his own idiosyncratic philosophy, whereas Mr Milne serves up neo-Marxist pap. A reading of Mr Cummings’ lengthy blog-posts reveals a restless mind grappling with a whirlwind of change. One moment he is meditating on whether artificial intelligence will produce a high-tech millennium. The next he is praising Singapore’s education system. The next he is spinning out ideas about a British space programme.

In my Observer piece about Cummings, I mused about the prospect of his technocratic zeal coming into collision with the immovable force of democratic politics:

The other thing one notices about Cummings is that he’s the purest of technocrats. He admires people who relish big challenges, to which they bring formidable analytical talents, mathematical insight, engineering nous and project management skills. For him, the Manhattan Project, creating the internet and the Apollo programme are inspirational examples of how smart determination delivers world-changing results.

The only problem with this – which Cummings appears not to notice – is that these technocratic dreams were realised entirely outside the realm of democratic politics. The lazy, venal, ignorant, self-aggrandising, compromising politicos whom he despises are nowhere to be seen. And the colossal resources needed to realise those dreams came from the bottomless well of wartime or cold war military funding. Chancellors’ autumn statements are nowhere to be seen.

This is why technocrats often suffer from “dictator envy”: it’s so much easier to get things done if politics doesn’t get in the way. So if Cummings is really the guy on whom Boris Johnson is pinning his hopes for a rebooted Britain, then another collision with reality awaits both of them. For the rest of us, the only consolation is that the dust of exploded dreams sometimes makes a fine sunset.

As his unlawful prerogative of Parliament suggests, Johnson has acquired a spot of dictator-envy from his consigliere.

That Supreme Court judgment

Stephen Sedley, a distinguished retired judge, has written a lovely commentary in the LRB on the Supreme Court’s judgment that Boris Johnson’s prerogative of Parliament was unlawful. I particularly enjoyed this passage:

On a memorandum from the government’s director of legislative affairs, Nikki da Costa, which at least attempted to face some of the constitutional issues, Boris Johnson had written:

(1) The whole September session is a rigmarole introduced [words redacted] t [sic] show the public that MPs were earning their crust.

(2) So I don’t see anything especially shocking about this prorogation.

(3) As Nikki nots [sic], it is OVER THE CONFERENCE SEASON so that the sitting days lost are actually very few.

The excised words, it turns out, were ‘by girly swot Cameron’. A minute of a cabinet conference call on 28 August was also disclosed, revealing little more than a concern not to be wrongfooted in manipulating a prorogation. Any suggestion that Johnson had given informed and conscientious consideration to the constitutionality of what he was doing will have withered on counsel’s lips.

Lovely stuff, which led me to read the extended text rather than relying on the live-streamed summary that I had watched on the day. The “girly” in “girly swot Cameron” is very revealing about Johnson’s pubic obsessions.