Wednesday 24 April, 2024

Quai d’Orsay

But not the one on the bank of the Seine. This one found its way to Ely, Cambridgeshire!

Quai d’Orsay” is often synonymous with the French Foreign Ministry, which occupies a magnificent building there. I remember a veteran Foreign Correspondent (I think it may have been the BBC’s John Simpson) once saying that he “never believed anything was true until it had been denied three times by the Quai d’Orsay.”

Quote of the Day

“I don’t necessarily agree with everything that I say.”

  • Marshall McLuhan

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

John Williams | Schindler’s List Theme | Itzhak Perlman


Long Read of the Day

AI isn’t useless. But is it worth it?

Lovely, astute assessment by Molly White, one of my favourite commentators on tech.

As someone known for my criticism of the previous deeply flawed technology to become the subject of the tech world’s overinflated aspirations, I have had people express surprise when I’ve remarked that generative artificial intelligence toolsa can be useful. In fact, I was a little surprised myself.

But there is a yawning gap between “AI tools can be handy for some things” and the kinds of stories AI companies are telling (and the media is uncritically reprinting). And when it comes to the massively harmful ways in which large language models (LLMs) are being developed and trained, the feeble argument that “well, they can sometimes be handy…” doesn’t offer much of a justification.

Some are surprised when they discover I don’t think blockchains are useless, either. Like so many technologies, blockchains are designed to prioritize a few specific characteristics (coordination among parties who don’t trust one another, censorship-resistance, etc.) at the expense of many others (speed, cost, etc.). And as they became trendy, people often used them for purposes where their characteristics weren’t necessary — or were sometimes even unwanted — and so they got all of the flaws with none of the benefits…

Full of good common sense. Worth a read.

Books, etc.

We’re reading — and enjoying — this fascinating group biography by Penelope Fitzgerald (neé Knox) of her four uncles, who were all (to put it mildly) er, distinctive. I had read and loved Evelyn Waugh’s biography of one of them — Ronald — but the others were a mystery to me. No longer.

My commonplace booklet

Every year on his birthday Kevin Kelly offers bits of homespun advice, and last year he collected them into a book — Excellent Advice For Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier. He’s just coming up to his 73rd birthday, and so he’s issued 101 more. Here are a few that struck me.

  • You owe everyone a second chance, but not a third.
  • Admitting that “I don’t know” at least once a day will make you a better person
  • Whenever you hug someone, be the last to let go
  • Read a lot of history so you can understand how weird the past was; that way you will be comfortable with how weird the future will be
  • Most arguments are not really about the argument, so most arguments can’t be won by arguing
  • There should be at least one thing in your life you enjoy despite being no good at it. This is your play time, which will keep you young. Never apologize for it.
  • Changing your mind about important things is not a consequence of stupidity, but a sign of intelligence.
  • You have 5 minutes to act on a new idea before it disappears from your mind.


Something I noticed, while drinking from the Internet firehose.

  • Back to the Future A new Huawei smartphone has a pop-out camera lens, just like ye olde point-and-shoot cameras — Ars Technica

This Blog is also available as an email three days a week. If you think that might suit you better, why not subscribe? One email on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays delivered to your inbox at 6am UK time. It’s free, and you can always unsubscribe if you conclude your inbox is full enough already!