Wednesday 13 October, 2021


Seen yesterday outside King’s Cross station.

Hail to the Chief Chieftain

Paddy Moloney, the founder and inspiration of the Chieftains, the folk group which made Irish music known and appreciated worldwide, has died at the age of 83. He was a gifted musician, performer and composer, but also someone who earned the admiration and affection of countless great musicians who had nothing to do with Irish music.

For those who don’t know about him, this hour-long BBC documentary provided an excellent account of his career and of the evolution of the Chieftains into world-renowned musicians.

And see below for Paddy and Liam O’Flynn in action.

Quote of the Day

”Is there a cure for film criticism?”

  • Pauline Kael

Not to my knowledge.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Liam O’Flynn & Paddy Moloney | Duelling Chanters


The two greatest Uileann pipers of my lifetime. Both now gone from us. Sigh.

Long Read of the Day

The Counterintuitive Mechanics of Peloton Addiction

An exploration by Anne Helen Petersen which is, she says

an outgrowth of my relationship with the bike, which, as you’ll see, is predicated on a particularly noxious relationship with exercise in general. You might have a very different relationship with exercise and, by extension, your Peloton — and I hope you’ll share it. But I think this particular type of relationship, much like disordered eating and body image, is more common than most understand.

This is the first thing I’ve read about stationary bikes that I found interesting. It’s confessional and well written.

Who are the censors now?

Social-media companies are, of course. But so are payment-processors, says an intriguing piece in The Economist:

Now the boundary of censorship is being extended further, into the pornography business. From October 15th adult websites worldwide will have to verify the age and identity of anyone featured in a picture or video, as well as the ID of the person uploading it. They will need to operate a fast complaints process, and will have to review all content before publication. These requirements are being imposed not by regulators but by Mastercard, a credit-card giant.

Websites can always choose not to work with Mastercard. But given that the company handles about 30% of all card payments made outside China, to do so would be costly. Visa, which manages a further 60% of payments, is also taking a firmer line on adult sites. And the trend goes beyond porn. In the shadier corners of the web, and in industries where the law is unclear or out of date, financial firms are finding themselves acting as de facto regulators.

Since the turn of the century, “payments have become a tool of domestic and international policy,” says Aaron Klein of the Brookings Institution, a think-tank. After the 9/11 attacks of 2001 America introduced new anti-money-laundering rules and more targeted sanctions. This system—a “21st-century precision-guided munition”, as a former head of the CIA called it—obliges financial firms to block payments to the individuals on a list which today runs to 1,604 pages. Funnily enough, it doesn’t mention Stripe.

For want of an apostrophe…

A cautionary tale from The New York Times:

A missing apostrophe in a Facebook post could cost a real estate agent in Australia tens of thousands of dollars after a court ruled a defamation case against him could proceed.

In the post last year, Anthony Zadravic, the agent, appears to accuse Stuart Gan, his former employer at a real estate agency, of not paying retirement funds to all the agency’s workers.

At issue is the word “employees” in the post, which read: “Oh Stuart Gan!! Selling multi million $ homes in Pearl Beach but can’t pay his employees superannuation,” referring to Australia’s retirement system, in which money is paid by employers into super accounts for employees. “Shame on you Stuart!!! 2 yrs and still waiting!!!”

What people search for on the Net

One of the most interesting books I read last year was Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s Everybody Lies: What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are. He used to work at Google and argues that knowing what people search for can be extraordinarily revealing about both people and society. It turns out that people will ask Google questions that they would never, ever confide to another person.

AnswerThe Public is an interactive website that enables you to type in a one or two-word phrase and will then produce (I guess from parsing Google auto-complete phrases) ordered lists of what questions people ask about that word or phrase.

I typed in ‘algorithms’ because I’m interested in the extent to which people do (or don’t) understand what algorithms are. Results (beautifully graphed) were interesting and sometimes illuminating.

Worth a try.

My Commonplace booklet

Eh? (See here)

“Most old books are momento memento mori for distant selves, since the person who read them no longer exists.” — Julian Baggini

I thought of this a couple of years ago at a second-hand book stall where I came on a textbook I had used — and understood — when I was an engineering undergraduate. A key concept in one section was that of a Nyquist diagram — a useful tool for determining the stability of feedback systems. That stuff was meat and drink to me once, but I had struggled to come to grips with it again at the bookstall. I decided that it was something that I no longer needed to know, and replaced the book on the bookseller’s pile, consoling myself with the thought that “that was then and this is now”.

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