Friday 3 March, 2023

Our Megalithic ancestors

On our trip last week we spent a couple of days exploring the Burren, a remarkable glaciokarst landscape in County Clare, on the west coast of Ireland. (See map.) It measures around 530 square kilometres (200 square miles), within a circle made by the villages of Lisdoonvarna, Corofin, Gort and Kinvara. At first sight it looks very barren (I’ve heard people refer to it as a ‘moonscape’) but in reality it has fascinating and abundant flora in the micro-ecosystems which thrive in the crevices of the limestone ‘pavement’.

The most interesting aspect of the place, for me anyway, is its archeology. According to Wikipedia,

By the Neolithic, c. 4000 BC, settlers had clearly arrived and began changing the landscape through deforestation, likely by overgrazing and burning, and the building of stone walls. These people also constructed Megalithic sites like the portal tomb known as Poulnabrone dolmen and the court tombs at Teergonean (near Doolin) and Ballyganner (near Noughaval). Overall, there are around 70 megalithic tombs in the Burren area, more than half of all of these structures found in Clare.

The photograph shows the Poulnabrone dolmen in which the remains of at least 33 individuals — infants, children and adults — were buried. Radiocarbon dating shows that those buried in the chamber died sometime in the period 4200 – 2900 BC. Over a thousand years later (1767 – 1413 BC) — i.e. during the Bronze Age — a newborn baby was buried in the portico outside the entrance to the chamber.

Quote of the Day

”If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

  • George Orwell

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Gershwin | Rhapsody in Blue | Khatia Buniatishvili


Long Read of the Day

The moral economy of tech

This is the text of one of the most effective talks ever given on the essence of the world we’re building with networked technology. The speaker is Maciej Cegłowski, one of the wisest people around. I first came on him because I use his software — — which plays a critical role in my little software ecosystem and workflow — and which has an honest business model.

Here’s a sample from the talk:

Those who benefit from the death of privacy attempt to frame our subjugation in terms of freedom, just like early factory owners talked about the sanctity of contract law. They insisted that a worker should have the right to agree to anything, from sixteen-hour days to unsafe working conditions, as if factory owners and workers were on an equal footing.

Companies that perform surveillance are attempting the same mental trick. They assert that we freely share our data in return for valuable services. But opting out of surveillance capitalism is like opting out of electricity, or cooked foods—you are free to do it in theory. In practice, it will upend your life.

Many of you had to obtain a US visa to attend this conference. The customs service announced yesterday it wants to start asking people for their social media profiles. Imagine trying to attend your next conference without a LinkedIn profile, and explaining to the American authorities why you are so suspiciously off the grid.

The reality is, opting out of surveillance capitalism means opting out of much of modern life.

And this eloquent metaphor:

As a technologist, this state of affairs gives me the feeling of living in a forest that is filling up with dry, dead wood. The very personal, very potent information we’re gathering about people never goes away, only accumulates. I don’t want to see the fire come, but at the same time, I can’t figure out a way to persuade other people of the great danger.

Books, etc.

My reading list

All three have just arrived!

My commonplace booklet

Our cat Tilly in what my son calls “her Cumberland Sausage pose”.

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