Monday 7 June, 2021

From the Preface to my copy of Keynes’s General Theory.

What caught my eye was the point that his readers will have difficulty not with the new ideas they will encounter in the text, but in sloughing off the old ideas with which they have been conditioned and reared. I see this all the time at the moment, as our governing elites can’t escape from their neoliberal conditioning.

Quote of the Day

”A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

  • Richard Bach

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

John Garth | Concerto for Violoncello Nº 2 in B flat Major


Lessons from Trump’s short career as a blogger

‘From the Desk of Donald J. Trump’ lasted just 29 days. It’s tempting to gloat over this humiliating failure of a monster hitherto regarded as an omnipotent master of the online universe.

Tempting but unwise, because Trump’s failure should alert us to a couple of unpalatable realities.

The first is that the eerie silence that descended after the former President was deplatformed by Twitter and Facebook provided conclusive evidence of the power of these two private companies to control the networked public sphere. Those of us who loathed him celebrate his silencing because we saw him — rightly — as a threat to democracy. But nearly half of the American electorate voted for him. And the same unaccountable power that deprived him of his online megaphones could easily be deployed to silence others of whom we approve.

The other unpalatable reality is that Trump’s failure to build an online base off his own bat should alert us to the way the utopian potential of the early Internet — that it would be the death of the couch potato, the archetypal passive consume — has not been realised. Trump, remember, had 80m followers on Twitter and God knows how many on Facebook. Yet when he starts his own blog they didn’t flock to it. In fact they were nowhere to be seen. Indeed his blog, as reported Forbes, had “less traffic than pet adoption site Petfinder and food site Eat This Not That.” And he shuttered it because “low readership made him look small and irrelevant”. Which it did.

What does this tell us? The answer, says Philip Napoli in an insightful essay in Wired,

lies in the inescapable dynamics of how today’s online media ecosystem operates and how audiences have come to engage with content online. Many of us who study media have long distinguished between “push” media and “pull” media. Traditional broadcast television is a classic “push” medium, in which multiple content streams are delivered to a user’s device with very little effort required on the user’s part, beyond flipping the channels. In contrast, the web was initially the quintessential “pull” medium, where a user frequently needed to actively search to locate content interesting to them. Search engines and knowing how to navigate them effectively were central to locating the most relevant content online. Whereas TV was a “lean-back” medium for “passive” users, the web, we were told, was a “lean-forward” medium, where users were “active.” Though these generalizations no longer hold up, the distinction is instructive for thinking about why Trump’s blog failed so spectacularly.

In the highly fragmented web landscape, with millions of sites to choose from, generating traffic is challenging. This is why early web startups spent millions of dollars on splashy Super Bowl ads on tired, old broadcast TV, essentially leveraging the push medium to inform and encourage people to pull their online content.

Then social media helped to transform the web from a pull medium to a push medium…

He’s right. See today’s Long Read for Cory Doctorow’s expansion of this idea.

Long Read of the Day

 Recommendation engines and “lean-back” media

Typically perceptive essay by Cory Doctorow.

The optimism of the era is best summarized in a taxonomy that grouped media into two categories: “lean back” (turn it on and passively consume it) and “lean forward” (steer your media consumption with a series of conscious decisions that explores a vast landscape).

Lean-forward media was intensely sociable: not just because of the distributed conversation that consisted of blog-reblog-reply, but also thanks to user reviews and fannish message-board analysis and recommendations.

Worth reading in full. Our media ecosystem has profoundly changed. And that means our culture is changing too.

Why a silicon chip shortage has left carmakers in the slow lane

Yesterday’s Observer column:

Once upon a time, cars were made the Henry Ford way, revolutionary in its time, but involving holding huge stocks of components to feed a relentless mechanised production line. As Japan started to rebuild after the war, its leading carmaker, Toyota, came up with a more efficient way of making them. It came to be called the “lean machine” and a key feature of it was to hold very small inventories of components and instead have the necessary parts delivered just when they were needed for a particular assembly task. It was the beginning of just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing and it eventually became the way all cars were made because lower inventories meant lower manufacturing costs, better quality and higher profit margins.

But JIT critically relies on an efficient, reliable and robust supply chain. If the chain falters, then everything grinds to a halt. This applies whether the part is a gearbox or a silicon chip and over the last two decades chips, particularly in engine management units (EMUs), have become vital to the functioning of even the humblest petrol or diesel vehicle. We’re heading towards a future when cars will essentially be computers with wheels. But even now, if the relevant chips don’t arrive, then it’s crisis time.

The current distress of the car industry stems from the fact that the chips aren’t arriving – for several reasons…

Read on

Another, hopefully interesting, link

  • Ice-skating Robot Also Swims No, I don’t need one. But interesting nonetheless. Link

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