Wednesday 16 December, 2020

Tim Berners-Lee

The inventor of the Web at a Royal Society symposium some years ago.

Quote of the Day

“We savaged them, though they had never hurt us, and we cannot find it in our hearts, our honour, to give them help — because the government of Vietnam is Communist. And perhaps because they won.”

  • Martha Gellhorn in The Face of War, 1986.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Randy Newman: You’ve Got a Friend in Me



Long read of the Day

The Big Thaw: How Russia Could Dominate a Warming World

This is an extraordinary report on a question I’d never thought about: who will be the beneficiaries of global warming? One of the winners is likely to be Russia and the essay explains why. It’s very long (20 minutes, minimum), but I found it fascinating and thought-provoking. It might also explain why Putin is looking so up-beat recently. Sample:

A great transformation is underway in the eastern half of Russia. For centuries the vast majority of the land has been impossible to farm; only the southernmost stretches along the Chinese and Mongolian borders, including around Dimitrovo, have been temperate enough to offer workable soil. But as the climate has begun to warm, the land — and the prospect for cultivating it — has begun to improve. Twenty years ago, Dima says, the spring thaw came in May, but now the ground is bare by April; rainstorms now come stronger and wetter. Across Eastern Russia, wild forests, swamps and grasslands are slowly being transformed into orderly grids of soybeans, corn and wheat. It’s a process that is likely to accelerate: Russia hopes to seize on the warming temperatures and longer growing seasons brought by climate change to refashion itself as one of the planet’s largest producers of food.

As I say: long read but worth it. Lovely photography too.

iPhone 12 Pro now has more dynamic range than the Canon EOS R5!

UPDATE: Apple has released iOS 14.3, outfitting iPhone 12 Pro and Max cameras with its new ProRAW format – enabling them to capture 12-bit DNG (RAW) files that possess 14 stops of dynamic range.

This means that the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max will possess even more dynamic range than the Canon EOS R5 – which is a remarkable achievement, even for two of the best camera phones on the market.


For years, Apple has devoted astonishing amounts of R&D talent and resources into the iPhone camera. I often wonder if the strategic vision implicit in this was Steve Jobs’s. The decision was clearly made on his watch. And it was made at a time when other phone manufacturers viewed the camera as an add-on rather than an integral component — and a reason why many people would buy it.

I have an iPhone 11 Pro phone, which has a terrific camera and even better computational resources behind it. It’s the camera I always have on me. But when I’m going somewhere interesting I generally also bring along a Leica. When I get back to base, however, often the pics I choose come from the iPhone rather than the Leica — especially if high dynamic range scenes are involved.

The new software in iOS 14.3 will simply widen this disparity. But it only works on iPhone 12 models, so that rules me out.

The geopolitics of the pandemic

As we head into the most unusual Christmas of my lifetime, it’s a bit eerie watching the inability of Western societies to get a grip on it. Sure, there’s a vaccine (a few, actually) and that’s amazing, but it’ll be a while before we begin to see the impact of those. In the meantime, there’s confusion, contradiction, uncertainty, ineptitude everywhere. And the virus is proving to be a pretty formidable opponent.

But in China things look markedly different at the moment. Which prompts the question of whether its ability apparently to suppress the virus and resume normality is simply an affordance of a quasi-totalitarian state? By the same token, is our chaos a reflection of the fact that we’re still living in some kind of democracy in which governments are reluctant to take long-term authoritarian measures either because of liberal misgivings or because they fear that they might not be able to enforce such measures if things came to a crunch?

If I were Xi Jinping, I would be using this comparison to push the idea that the Western system is intrinsically unviable and that the Chinese approach is the right way to manage a modern society. I don’t believe it is, actually. But I can see how one could spin it that way.

Other, hopefully interesting, links

  • John O. Brennan on UFOs. Who he? Answer: Director of the CIA for four years under Obama. This is a chunk of his fascinating conversation with Tyler Cowen. Link

  • How to save yourself if you fall through a hole in thin ice. Don’t try this at home. Link

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