Monday 13 February, 2023

Early morning on the river

On Friday. Thanks to Pete for the pic.

Quote of the Day

”The dogs had eaten the upholstery of a Packard convertible that afternoon and were consequently somewhat subdued.”

  • S.J. Perelman

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

The Rolling Stones | Sweet Virginia (Live)


Long Read of the Day

Beyond Borders

Adam Shatz writing in the London Review of Books about Adolfo Kaminsky, possibly the most accomplished forger of the 20th century.

In the spring​ of 1944, a young man was stopped at a checkpoint of the Pétainist milice outside the Saint-Germain-des-Prés metro station. According to his identity card, he was Julien Keller, aged seventeen, a dyer, born in the département of the Creuse. The bag he was carrying contained dozens of other fake identity papers. But he was confident that the police had no idea how frightened he was because he had learned to affect an air of serenity. ‘I also knew, with certainty, that my papers were in order,’ he recalled many years later. After all, ‘I was the one who had made them.’

‘Julien Keller’ was the nom de guerre of Adolfo Kaminsky, who died in Paris last month aged 97. It was largely thanks to him that the German-occupied zone of wartime France was flooded with false documents. The Occupation authorities were on his trail, but they never suspected that the forger they were after was a teenager…

Great story. Extraordinary man.

Well, I never: AI is very proficient at designing nerve agents

Yesterday’s Observer column

Here’s a story that evangelists for so-called AI (artificial intelligence) – or machine-learning (ML) – might prefer you didn’t dwell upon. It comes from the pages of Nature Machine Intelligence, as sober a journal as you could wish to find in a scholarly library. It stars four research scientists – Fabio Urbina, Filippa Lentzos, Cédric Invernizzi and Sean Ekins – who work for a pharmaceutical company building machine-learning systems for finding “new therapeutic inhibitors” – substances that interfere with a chemical reaction, growth or other biological activity involved in human diseases.

The essence of pharmaceutical research is drug discovery. It boils down to a search for molecules that may have therapeutic uses and, because there are billions of potential possibilities, it makes searching for needles in haystacks look like child’s play. Given that, the arrival of ML technology, enabling machines to search through billions of possibilities, was a dream come true and it is now embedded everywhere in the industry…

Do read the whole piece

Books, etc.

The book speaks of the need for storytelling as protection from the chaos of reality, but for whom is reality chaotic? For disillusioned intellectuals, but probably not for merchant bankers and military planners. It may be a rough old place, but that’s different. Virginia Woolf seems to have seen the world as chaotic, but one doubts the same was true of her servants. In any case, you could just as easily see reality as stiflingly rule-bound and constrictive, and fiction as a playful relief from this straitjacket.

Terry Eagleton, reviewing Peter Brooks’s book, Seduced by Story: The Use and Abuse of Narrative.

My commonplace booklet

From Virginia Woolf’s diary for 9 January, 1924.

I may say that coincident with the purchase of 51 Tavistock Sqre (how I like writing that) is the purchase of a nine penny pen, a fountain pen, which has an ordinary nib & writes — sometimes very well. Am I more excited by buying Tavistock Sqre, or by buying my new fountain pen? — which reflection which reminds me that I have volume 7 of Montaigne to polish off.”

Gosh! I wonder what nine 1924 pennies pence would translate to in today’s money. (There must be a conversion table somewhere?) It would give me an idea of what my collection of pens might worth. Apart altogether from their sentimental value, of course.

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