Thursday 6 January, 2022

Turn left for history

A nice signpost on the North Norfolk coast.

Quote of the Day

”I am about to leave literature flat on its face. I don’t want to review books any more. It cuts in too much on my reading.”

  • Dorothy Parker in the final edition of her New Yorker ‘Constant Reader’ column.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Rolling Stones | Start Me Up


I love this track, not to mention the video of the boys poncing about. But the funniest thing about it is that Microsoft bought the rights to use it in 1995 as the launch music for Windows 95. Which in a way was appropriate, given that Win95 was the first operating system which obliged its unfortunate users to press the ‘Start’ button in order to shut the PC down.

Long Read of the Day

The Lost History of the Electric Car

An excerpt from Tom Standage’s most recent book,  A Brief History of Motion: From the wheel to the car to what comes next. As usual, one discovers that there is nothing new under the sun. When the idea of powering vehicles with gasoline emerged, for example,

Some people did raise concerns about the sustainability of powering cars using non-renewable fossil fuels, and the reliability of access to such fuels. Today, electric cars, charged using renewable energy, are seen as the logical way to address these concerns. But the debate about the merits of electric cars turns out to be as old as the automobile itself.

In 1897, the bestselling car in the US was an electric vehicle: the Pope Manufacturing Company’s Columbia Motor Carriage. Electric models were outselling steam- and petrol-powered ones. By 1900, sales of steam vehicles had taken a narrow lead: that year, 1,681 steam vehicles, 1,575 electric vehicles and 936 petrol-powered vehicles were sold. Only with the launch of the Olds Motor Works’ Curved Dash Oldsmobile in 1903 did petrol-powered vehicles take the lead for the first time.

Henry Ford bought his wife, Clara, a Detroit Electric rather than one of his own Model Ts. And for a time the early EVs were seen as “women’s cars”, possibly because “some men may have liked that electric cars’ limited range meant that the independence granted to their drivers was tightly constrained”. I’m reminded of Ithiel de Sola Pool’s story of how some British men in the 1920s were reluctant to have a telephone installed in their homes because it would allow their wives to have conversations with men to whom they had not been properly introduced.

This is an informative essay which I much enjoyed.

What a Tory donor and a lavish lunch in Mayfair tells us about British politics

Lovely column by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian on how corruption works in Tory circles.

A woman must lunch somewhere. When the prime minister told Liz Truss to examine every road post Brexit, her thoughts naturally turned to Mayfair and Hertford Street. Perhaps that nice caff at No 5. We are after all lunching with that nice American trade envoy, Katherine Tai. Perhaps two measures of dry gin; three bottles of Pazo Barrantes Albariño, a Spanish white wine, costing a total of £153; and two bottles of the French red Coudoulet de Beaucastel, costing a total of £130. Perhaps a £3,000 bill.

Besides, the proprietor of 5 Hertford Street is Robin Birley, half-brother to Boris Johnson’s mate Zac Goldsmith, and buddy of Michael Gove and David Cameron. And he tipped Johnson 20 grand for his “leadership” campaign, wherever that went.

Surely such generosity calls for a kindly nod and wink. 5 Hertford Street posted substantial losses last year, so the money might come in handy. Birley even halved the bill if it could be paid straight away.

Truss’s civil servants were against having such a luxurious lunch but were apparently overruled by their boss.

Worth filing away for later in the year, when Truss will be a leading contender for Boris Johnson’s job when the party eventually dumps him.

The ‘Metaverse’ delusion

From a Fast Company blog post:

”The Facebook version of Metaverse hype is based on a self-serving premise that people will choose to, or even have the option to, escape the “real world” in order to interact in a synthetic one (and sponsored by…). This ignores where things are already headed. What computing has already done for us is add to our existing environment.

In most situations, we don’t want to go into our computers, but rather, we want computers to work in our world, where life happens: at the dinner table, on the train, hanging out with friends, etc. Besides the continued hype around augmented reality, the mobile phone has had the practical effect of bringing all of what computing offers into our literal hands. Wearable mobile computing, and perhaps one day, mixed reality will allow us that value, heads up and hands-free. And, like its predecessors, it will profoundly change how people behave. Whatever the interface, the future of computing is not escape. It is about us, and the amplifying force it has on our own abilities, in the world we already live in.”

Er, hopefully. But I’ve just got a new book by the philosopher David Chalmers predicting that, within a century, we will have virtual worlds that are impossible to distinguish from non-virtual ones. He also seems to believe that humans can live meaningful lives in virtual reality, which makes me wonder what he’s been smoking. But I need to read it first. It’s officially out on January 22.

And then, of course, there’s Heidegger’s view that “technology is the art of arranging the world so that we do not have to experience it”…

My commonplace booklet

”What is the difference between “further” and “farther”? In the dictionary, look up “further.” It says “farther.” Look up “farther.” It says “further.” So you’re safe and can roll over and sleep. But the distinction has a difference and [fact checkers'] know what’s O.K. “Farther” refers to measurable distance. “Further” is a matter of degree. Will you stop pelting me with derision? That’s enough out of you. You’ll go no further.”

From the chapter on fact-checking in John McPhee’s wonderful book on the writing process.

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