Friday 29 April, 2022

Seeds of glory

If you have a lawn, dandelions are a curse. But their mechanism for propagating is magical. Each of the tiny seeds in this diffuse sphere has its own parachute.

Quote of the Day

”For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Liam O’Flynn, Neil Martin, Seán Keane, Matt Molloy & Arty McGlynn


Recorded in 1999. Lovely reminder of the great piper, Liam O’Flynn. Tunes are: *An Buachaill Caol Dubh, 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). Liam (Uilleann Pipes), Neil Martin (Cello), Seán Keane (Fiddle) and Matt Molloy. Also unusual to have a cello in such an ensemble.

Long Read of the Day

 The Internet is Made of Demons

Absolutely fascinating review essay by Sam Kriss, triggered by Justin E.H. Smith’s new book, The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is: A History, A Philosophy, A Warning.

I’m reading (and enjoying) the book, and was very struck by the way Kriss’s essay ends:

Thinkers of the past have plenty to teach us about the internet, and the world has indeed been doing vaguely internetty things for a very long time. But as I suggested above, our digital internet marks a significant transformation in those processes: it’s the point at which our communications media cease to mediate. Instead of talking to each other, we start talking to the machine. If there are intimations of the internet running throughout history, it might be because it’s a nightmare that has haunted all societies. People have always been aware of the internet: once, it was the loneliness lurking around the edge of the camp, the terrible possibility of a system of signs that doesn’t link people together, but wrenches them apart instead. In the end, what I can’t get away from are the demons. Whenever people imagined the internet, demons were always there.

Lludd and Llefelys, one of the medieval Welsh tales collected in the Mabinogion, is a vision of the internet. In fact, it describes the internet twice. Here, a terrible plague has settled on Britain: the arrival of the Coraniaid, an invincible supernatural enemy. What makes the Coraniaid so dangerous is their incredibly sharp hearing. They can hear everything that’s said, everywhere on the island, even a whisper hundreds of miles away. They already know the details of every plot against them. People have stopped talking; it’s the only way to stay safe. To defeat them, the brothers Lludd and Llefelys start speaking to each other through a brass horn, which protects their words. Today, we’d call it encryption. But this horn contains a demon; whatever you speak into it, the words that come out are always cruel and hostile. This medium turns the brothers against each other; it’s a communications device that makes them more alone. In the story, the brothers get rid of the demon by washing out the horn with wine. I’m not so sure we can do that today: the horn and its demon are one and the same thing.

More on hypersonic missiles

Apropos the essay I posted yesterday, Andrew Curry (Whom God Preserve) pointed me to two pieces in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists — who would be quick to be concerned — that have taken a more relaxed view. They can be found here and here. The second of these articles is particularly scornful of media commentary on the implications of hypersonic missiles:

Many articles report, or exclaim, that there is no defense against hypersonic gliders. The word “unstoppable” pops up often. Again, compared to what? The United States cannot now defend against even modest ballistic missile attacks. One of Saudi Arabia’s most critical oil refining facilities was attacked by subsonic cruise missiles using decades-old technology that the Saudis, with a $180 billion defense budget, were not able to defend against at all. When headlines convey the message that the new thing about hypersonic gliders is that they are unstoppable, this implies that ballistic missiles are stoppable—that is, ballistic missile defense is easy, a done deal, and these new hypersonic weapons are undoing all that with revolutionary consequences. This is a major, dangerous distortion. Defending completely a huge area like the continental United States is an impossible task, whether against hypersonic weapons, ballistic missiles, or even subsonic cruise missiles. More limited point defense against intermediate-range ballistic missiles is extremely challenging but not impossible, but missile designers still have tricks that can make even that defense more difficult.

And, as Andrew points out, with tongue firmly in cheek,

It’s also possible that the capabilities and threat posed by hypersonic missiles have been hyped by those involved in their development to ramp up funding. Although no-one in the defence world would ever do such a thing, obviously.


My commonplace booklet

The trailer for Alex Winter’s forthcoming film, The YouTube Effect.

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