Monday 30 January, 2023

The icy forest

Actually a close up of iced-up Santolina taken during the cold snap a few days ago. But when I looked at it again I suddenly imagined it as an aerial view of an arctic forest!

Quote of the Day

”Life is not so bad if you have plenty of luck, a good physique, and not too much imagination.”

  • Christopher Isherwood

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Ry Cooder, Ricky Skaggs, Sharon White


Long Read of the Day

How to win arguments online

Dave Karpf is a tenured professor at George Washington University and a blogger. He teaches a class in ‘strategic communication’, and was recently handed a case study in how not to engage in an online row.

What happened was that Karpf tweeted something rude about Brett Stephens, a conservative NYT columnist, who wrote something with which he disagreed. He called him a “bedbug”. Stephens then emailed him — cc’ing the Provost of his university (i.e. in the shaky hierarchy of a US university, his boss’s boss) — complaining about this.

This was the standard old-world response of an ‘elite’ commentator aiming to activate the usual Establishment mechanism for disciplining a heckler. Big mistake in today’s networked world. Karpf tweeted about Stephens’s action and attached a copy of the email. At which point the whole thing went viral.

Karpf’s essay is an account of what happened, and reflections on what can be learned from it.

Riveting and instructive.

Why has Alphabet hit the panic button? Only Google can answer that question

Yesterday’s Observer column

In a strange way, the best thing that could have happened to Google (now masquerading as Alphabet, its parent company) was Facebook. Why? Because although Google invented surveillance capitalism, arguably the most toxic business model since the opium trade, it was Facebook that got into the most trouble for its abuses of it. The result was that Google enjoyed an easier ride. Naturally, it had the odd bit of unpleasantness with the EU, with annoying fines and long drawn out legal wrangles. But it was the Facebook boss, Mark Zuckerberg – not Google’s Larry Page, Sergey Brin and their adult supervisor Eric Schmidt – who was awarded the title of evil emperor of the online world.

This sometimes enabled Google to fly below the regulatory radar and avoid public criticism. Its relative immunity may also have been fostered by credulity induced by its “Don’t be evil” motto. What may also have helped is the way that, over the years, it fumbled quite a few things – Google+, Google Wave, Google Glass, Knol and Google Reader, to name just five. On the other hand, it also managed to create useful and successful products – Gmail, for example, plus Google Maps, Google Scholar, Google Earth and Google Books. And, of course, it made inspired acquisitions of YouTube in 2006 and of artificial intelligence startup DeepMind in 2014.

What enabled the company to get away with that mixture of creativity, fumbling and indirection, obviously, was that it was always rolling in money…

Do read the whole thing.

My commonplace booklet

I recently highlighted an article about the way Wikipedia dealt with the thorny question of what pronouns to assign to Ernest Hemingway’s offspring — ‘Grace’ or ‘Gregory’ — before eventually settling for the former.

Chris Patten writes to say:

And if you query why ‘Grace’ has replaced Gregory, Google asks if you want to hear about HIS life! The delusion can’t be maintained.

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