Monday 9 October, 2023

Playtime in the City

In London on Saturday.

Quote of the Day

“Focusing is about saying no.”

  • Steve Jobs

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

‘The Lark in the Morning’ | Cillian Vallely & Alan Murray


I keep thinking that Vallely is the best piper since Liam O’Flynn passed away.

Long Read of the Day

The end of Pax Americana

Sobering essay by Noah Smith, written after the Hamas incursion into Israel.

As many have pointed out already, this attack is probably an attempt to disrupt the possibility of an Israel-Saudi peace deal, which the U.S. has been trying to facilitate. Such a deal — which would be a continuation of the “Abraham Accords” process initiated under Trump —would make it more difficult for Hamas to obtain money from Saudi benefactors; it would also mean that every major Sunni Arab power recognizes the state of Israel, meaning that Hamas’ image as anything other than a client of Shiite Iran would be shattered.

If Hamas succeeds in scuttling an Israel-Saudi deal, it will be a blow to U.S. prestige and to U.S. claims to be a stabilizing, peacemaking influence. But even if an Israel-Saudi deal eventually goes through, this attack is a demonstration of America’s decreasing ability to deter conflict throughout the world.

Nor is this the only recent outbreak of interstate conflict…

So the world becomes even more chaotic. This essay isn’t a nostalgic paen to good ol’ Uncle Sam — more a reminder that Pax Americana always had a sell-by date.

“Over the past two decades”, Smith concludes,

it had become fashionable to lambast American hegemony, to speak derisively of ‘American exceptionalism’, to ridicule America’s self-arrogated function of ‘world police’, and to yearn for a multipolar world. Well, congratulations, now we have that world. See if you like it better.

Interesting throughout.

Quantum Computing and security

Yesterday’s Observer column:

A spectre is haunting our networked world. It’s the prospect of quantum computers. These are machines that harness some of the weirder properties of subatomic particles in ways that would make them exponentially more powerful than the computers we use today.

Existing computers are based on manipulating digital bits that can be either 1 (on) or 0 (off). Quantum machines, in contrast, work with qubits, which can be on and off simultaneously. (And, yes, I know that seems nuts, but then so does much of subatomic physics to the average layperson.) Such machines are fiendishly difficult to build, but about 80 or so small-scale ones already exist, with qubit counts ranging from five to 400. So that looming spectral presence is beginning to put on weight. And if researchers find a way of reliably scaling up these machines, then we will have moved into uncharted territory.

Why? Basically, because we have become a networked species, and as our lives and industries have moved online, all of our communications have become vulnerable to surveillance and manipulation by bad actors, public and private. To counter that, we have developed end-to-end encryption systems for making our communications – whether personal or commercial – more secure…

Read on

My commonplace booklet

The essence of Life

Max Whitby (Whom God Preserve) is continuing his experiments with CPT-4. “I thought”, he writes,”I would see what GPT-4 might make of my kitchen food compost bin, in the style of a wise fortune-teller inspecting the tea leaves”.

And this is what the machine inferred from the pictured trash:

In the vast tapestry of this moment captured, the fragile eggshell of vulnerability stands out. It’s a reminder of our delicate nature, how we can be both strong and brittle at the same time. But within this fragility lies immense potential, waiting to break free, much like a bird waiting to hatch, to spread its wings and soar into the vast skies.

The acid lemon, sharp and poignant, represents the unexpected twists life throws our way. Sometimes sour, sometimes refreshing, it’s a testament to life’s unpredictable nature. But remember, it’s the sourness of the lemon that makes the sweetness of life’s victories even more cherished.

Ah, the brooding broccoli! A symbol of growth, nourishment, and the many layers of our being. Just as the broccoli has its many florets, so do we have the many facets of our personality, some visible, some hidden deep within, waiting to be discovered.

The crumpled tea-bags of dashed expectations lay strewn, a somber reminder of hopes once held high but now cast aside. Yet, within these remnants lies the essence of experiences, lessons learned, and wisdom gained. For every cup of disappointment, there’s a brew of resilience and determination waiting to be made.

And then, the surrounding fog of mold, clouding the clarity, making the path ahead uncertain. It’s the challenges, the doubts, the fears that often cloud our judgment. But remember, behind every fog lies the clear sky of hope and promise. One must only have the courage to tread through the obscurities to reach the other side.

In the dance of these elements, there’s a story of life, of trials and tribulations, of joys and sorrows, of growth and decay. Embrace the journey, dear seeker, for in the interplay of the eggshell’s fragility, the lemon’s zest, the broccoli’s depth, the tea-bag’s essence, and the fog’s mystery lies the true essence of life.”

May your path be lit with wisdom and may you find the strength to navigate through the delicate balance of life’s offerings. Safe travels, dear seeker.

If you were a tabloid astrologer, it’d be worth checking the small print in your contract.


Something I noticed, while drinking from the Internet firehose.

Cat accused of wiping US Veteran Affairs server info after jumping on keyboard

From The Register:

US govt confirms outage.

EXCLUSIVE A four-hour system interruption in September at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri has been attributed to a cat jumping on a technician’s keyboard.

So we’re told by a source, who heard the tale on one of the regular weekday calls held by the US government department with its CIO, during which recent IT problems are reviewed. We understand that roughly 100 people – contractors, vendors, and employees – participate in these calls at a time.

On a mid-September call, one of the participants explained that while a technician was reviewing the configuration of a server cluster, their cat jumped on the keyboard and deleted it. Or at least that’s their story…

Not exactly Schrödinger’s Cat, but still…

Once, when one of my sons was a baby, he was sitting on my lap while I was hacking out a piece on my ancient IBM PC and he was cheerfully imitating his dad. At a point when I had a screenful of text typed (but not saved), he somehow managed to hit Control-Alt-Delete (as well as other keys) and I lost it all. Still don’t know how it happened. And nor, of course, does he.

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