Monday 17 May, 2022

Waiting for a bite

I came on this on Saturday and was struck by it. It’s by John Singer Sargent and shows two of his nieces fishing in the French alps during a family holiday in 1912.

Quote of the Day

”If people don’t believe mathematics is simple, it is only because they don’t realise how complicated life is.”

  • John von Neumann

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Bruce Springsteen | You Never Can Tell | Leipzig 7 July, 2013 |. Amazing performance. But an even more amazing audience.


Long Read of the Day

What I learned from unfollowing you

Interesting essay by Charlie Warzel on breaking — and remaking — his Twitter habit.

Anyhow, eight years in, my Twitter feed had come to resemble a party that I’d stayed at for far too long. I watched people I’d developed parasocial relationships with morph into villains or curmudgeons or get famous. I saw a lot of people become the person their followers wanted them to be, which is never good. I knew I’d changed quite a bit, too (I gained about 170,000 followers, which definitely colored my experience). It was getting late; I was coming down and getting edgy, but trying to push back the dawn and my anxiety by staying at the party.

I was, finally, frustrated and jaded every time I opened the app. I found myself giving my attention to loads of people who I fundamentally believed did not deserve it. The dissonance in that action was making me feel awful, and to make myself feel better, I sought out more of what made me feel awful, so that I could feel superior. Dumb stuff, I know. But, like many, I’d become more addicted to things that made me feel outrage or even anxiety. I told myself that Twitter was no longer a place I wanted to be, which was true. But perhaps what was more true is that the version of Twitter I’d built for myself was no longer the place I wanted to be. So I killed it.

By which he meant that he ‘unfollowed’ 2044 people he used to follow. The interesting bit is that he started again, building a new list of people worth following.

Coming down to earth – safely

From the US Federal Aviation Administration’s account:

At noon EDT on Tuesday, May 10, the pilot of a Cessna 208 flying to Florida from the Bahamas told his two passengers he wasn’t feeling well. He fell against the controls, putting the aircraft into a nosedive and sharp turn.

The passengers had no flying experience, and what unfolded thereafter was truly remarkable thanks to a team of air traffic controllers.

At that point, one of the passengers jumped into action. He pulled the aircraft out of the nosedive and called Fort Pierce Tower at Treasure Coast International Airport in Fort Pierce, Fla., to let them know the pilot was incapacitated, and that he had no flying experience.

“I’ve got a serious situation here … the pilot is incoherent … and I have no idea how to fly the airplane.”

The FAA account of what happened next is interesting, but I really enjoyed James Fallows’s blog post about the incident not just because it provides much more context but also because Fallows, a keen pilot himself, writes beautifully about flying.

So do read Fallows.

The former Nazi rocket scientist who all too accurately saw the future

Yesterday’s Observer column on Wernher von Braun who, as well as serving in the SS and a second act as a Nasa engineer also wrote a Martian sci-fi novel with a prescient twist…

I recently read (and greatly enjoyed) V2, Robert Harris’s absorbing second world war thriller about British attempts to locate and destroy the base in the Netherlands from which Hitler’s “Retaliation Weapon 2” – those devastating rocket-powered bombs aimed at London – were launched. Harris is famous for the meticulous research that underpins his plots and V2 is no exception. For me, a particularly interesting aspect of the novel was his portrayal of Wernher von Braun, the German aerospace engineer who was the leading figure in the development of Nazi rocketry and who was snaffled by the US (with a large number of his technical associates) to enjoy a splendid second career as the mastermind of the US space programme.

Harris portrays Von Braun as an exceedingly shrewd operator who effectively used the Nazi regime to enable him to further his dream of space exploration…

After the column was published I got some interesting emails.

One — from Andrew Arends (Whom God Preserve) pointed me towards Tom Lehrer’s nicely sardonic take on von Braun.

And George Dyson sent a photograph of his father’s copy of the technical appendix to von Braun’s novel.

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