Monday 8 April, 2024

Light, shade and all that rot

Quote of the Day

”Musk’s management philosophy for Twitter hasn’t so much been a random walk as a grasshopper lepping around on a hotplate.”

  • Henry Farrell

(Nice, especially Henry’s use of the derisive Irish term for ‘leaping’).

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Handel | Semele HWV 58 / Act II | Where’er you walk | Bryn Terfel


I love this aria, and have even been tempted to sing it in the shower, even if the lyrics are premier-grade tosh.

Long Read of the Day

Death is a Feature

Striking blog post by Doc Searls (Whom God Preserve).

Here’s how it opens:

Elon Musk wants to colonize Mars.

This is a very human thing to want. But before we start following his lead, we might want to ask whether death awaits us there.

Not our deaths. Anything’s. What died there to make life possible for what succeeds it?

From what we can tell so far, the answer is nothing.

To explain why life needs death, answer this: what do plastic, wood, limestone, paint, travertine, marble, asphalt, oil, coal, stalactites, peat, stalagmites, cotton, wool, chert, cement, nearly all food, all gas, and most electric services have in common?

They are all products of death. They are remains of living things or made from them…


How one engineer’s curiosity may have saved us from a devastating cyber-attack

Yesterday’s Observer column

On Good Friday, a Microsoft engineer named Andres Freund noticed something peculiar. He was using a software tool called SSH for securely logging into remote computers on the internet, but the interactions with the distant machines were significantly slower than usual. So he did some digging and found malicious code embedded in a software package called XZ Utils that was running on his machine. This is a critical utility for compressing (and decompressing) data running on the Linux operating system, the OS that powers the vast majority of publicly accessible internet servers across the world. Which means that every such machine is running XZ Utils.

Freund’s digging revealed that the malicious code had arrived in his machine via two recent updates to XZ Utils, and he alerted the Open Source Security list to reveal that those updates were the result of someone intentionally planting a backdoor in the compression software. It was what is called a “supply-chain attack” (like the catastrophic SolarWinds one of 2020) – where malicious software is not directly injected into targeted machines, but distributed by infecting the regular software updates to which all computer users are wearily accustomed. If you want to get malware out there, infecting the supply chain is the smart way to do it…

Read on

Books, etc.

On reading ‘A Room of One’s Own’

Andrew Curry has been reading Virginia Woolf’s little masterpiece. He hadn’t read it before, and so was coming to it fresh. And he plans three blog posts about it, of which this is #1.

When she gave the pair of lectures to Cambridge undergraduates, her reputation as a leading modernist novelist was secure. She was in her 40s, and had already published Mrs Dalloway and To The Lighthouse. But the persona that Virginia Woolf adopts for the pair of lectures, to women undergraduates in Cambridge, is of the poorly educated woman who is struggling to understand the things that male authority figures are saying about women in general, and about women writers in particular.

For example, in an early sequence in the British Library she ploughs through a large pile of books written by men about women, while also noting that there are far fewer books the other way around:

How shall I ever find the grains of truth embedded in all this mass of paper? I asked myself, and in despair began running my eye up and down the long list of titles. Even the names of the books gave me food for thought. Sex and its nature might well attract doctors and biologists; but what was surprising and difficult of explanation was the fact that sex—woman, that is to say—also attracts agreeable essayists, light-fingered novelists, young men who have taken the M.A. degree; men who have taken no degree; men who have no apparent qualification save that they are not women.

It’s one of my favourite books, so I’m looking forward to seeing what Andrew makes of it.

My commonplace booklet

I discovered these on the faded back of an old postcard that had been pinned to the notice board of an office I used to have.

Techniques of argument

  1. Avoiding giving evidence
  2. Using carefully selected evidence
  3. Over-extending your opponent’s argument
  4. Appealing to ‘authority’, epistemic or otherwise
  5. Appearing to be clever
  6. Sarcasm, innuendo, etc.
  7. Appealing to people’s prejudice
  8. Asking rhetorical questions
  9. Appealing to your opponent’s vanity

In my time I have been guilty of #2,3,6 and 8. I tried #5, but it didn’t work (because I’m not).

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