Monday 30 May, 2022

Caterpillar pillar

Walking on a local footpath on Saturday I suddenly found myself entangled in a long — and virtually invisible — thread that had clearly been woven by a spider. Further investigation revealed another such thread, extending all the way from a bush above my head to the ground. And up this thread caterpillars were making their way upwards. At the lower end of the thread, however, there was what can only be described as a traffic jam. So I set my Summilux lens to its ‘Macro’ setting and took this photograph.

And as I did so I suddenly understood why the Blue Tits in our nest box are having no difficulty feeding their youngsters!

Quote of the Day

”I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

  • Oscar Wilde

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Van Morrison | Days Like This


Always stops me in my tracks.

Long Read of the Day

James Crabtree on Tom Cruise and America’s hegemonic anxiety

James has been to a preview of the new Tom Cruise Top Gun movie and written an absorbing piece about it in the Financial Times, where it’s behind the paywall. But he’s provided a pdf of it which you can get to here.

He starts by reflecting back to the original Top Gun movie, released in 1986 at the height of Reagan braggadocio and the faltering of the Soviet Union, reminding us that the original movie encapsulated the American arrogance of that moment.

But now, 36 years later…

as the US readies itself for a new era of military competition with China, it would be reasonable to expect Cruise’s sequel to brim with comparable, jingoistic self-confidence. Curiously, then, it turns out that Top Gun: Maverick is actually a rather anxious kind of blockbuster, filled with doubts about the durability of US power, and functioning in many ways as an elegy for relative American decline.”

And of course the movie has to walk interesting tightrope. The clear hegemonic rival to the US now is China — I mean to say, what other superpower’s aircraft would those fighter-pilot jocks be engaging in high-altitude combat?

But that’s an insight that dare not speak its name in Hollywood at the moment. Just think of that huge Chinese market…

Interestingly, as I read the piece, it also occurred to me that there’s a lesson here for Elon Musk, if he eventually goes through with his purchase of Twitter and begins to implement his promised robust encouragement of ‘free speech’ on the platform. After all, there’s a lot of anti-China ‘free’ speech on US social media. The Xi regime has no sense of humour in these matters.

And half of Musk’s Teslas are made in China.

Go figure. And thanks to James for the Long Read.

Facial recognition firms should take a look in the mirror

Yesterday’s Observer column:

Last week, the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) slapped a £7.5m fine on a smallish tech company called Clearview AI for “using images of people in the UK, and elsewhere, that were collected from the web and social media to create a global online database that could be used for facial recognition”. The ICO also issued an enforcement notice, ordering the company to stop obtaining and using the personal data of UK residents that is publicly available on the internet and to delete the data of UK residents from its systems.

Since Clearview AI is not exactly a household name some background might be helpful. It’s a US outfit that has “scraped” (ie digitally collected) more than 20bn images of people’s faces from publicly available information on the internet and social media platforms all over the world to create an online database. The company uses this database to provide a service…

Read on

Just the job

Lovely blog post by my friend Quentin (Whom God Preserve):

A recent spam email in my inbox says:

I can set up a 15 minutes intro call with our Head of Customer Success if this email interests you.

Do people really have job titles as idiotic as “Head of Customer Success”? How would you live with yourself? Wouldn’t you cringe when anybody asked you your role? And what are you head of? A team of other little Customer Success people all the way down to Customer Success Trainees, perhaps? Would you hang your head in shame if one of your customers didn’t succeed at something?

Perhaps you could get away with never mentioning it, now that people don’t hand out business cards any more… until your company insisted on email signatures. Anyway, if you have that job title, I pity you… unless you asked for it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I rather like fun job titles. I remember a friend who had ‘Software Artisan’ on his business card, for example, and it raised a smile, while still actually saying something. The problem with the one in my email was the nagging worry that they were actually serious about it.

At one of my previous startups, I described myself as the CIO – the Chief Interim Officer. I wrote the software until I hired somebody better; did a bit of hardware until we got a proper hardware guy, sold things until we hired a sales team, and ran the company until I found a better CEO… at which point I’d hired myself out of a job and it was time to go and start a new company. That’s the peril, or joy, of being a jack-of-all-trades and master of none…

Many years ago, in the early days of Apple, I knew a guy who was an expert production manager in a big British engineering company and he was headhunted by Apple to run their newish Irish subsidiary. When he joined he had business cards printed with his title: Production Director. After a few weeks in the job he flew to Apple HQ in California, where he was introduced to Steve Jobs. He handed Steve his new business card. Jobs scanned it, tore it up and handed back the shredded card. “In Apple you’re ‘management’”, he said, and walked away.

My commonplace booklet

Use Google maps to travel back in time (well no further back than 2007, when Streetview launched.)

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