Wednesday 24 August, 2022


We’re reading Colm Tóibín’s The Magician, his fictional re-imagining of the life of Thomas Mann, at the moment, and have just got to the point where the subject makes his first visit to Venice, where he is immediately struck by the fact that the gondolas, with their shiny black splendour, remind him of hearses. And then I remembered this shot from one of our visits to the city and went digging for it in my archive.

Quote of the Day

”The secret of happiness is not doing what we like but in liking what we do”

  • J.M. Coetzee

Yeah, but it’s not the only secret.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Professor Longhair & His New Orleans Boys | Mardi Gras In New Orleans


Long Read of the Day

The approaching tsunami of addictive AI-created content will overwhelm us

Terrific blog post by Charles Arthur (Whom God Preserve). It’s a much more extensive analysis of the upsides and downsides of ‘AI’-powered text-to-graphics engines like DALL-E than I was able to do in my Observer column last Sunday. His argument is that humans are not ready for the coming deluge of video, audio, photos and even text generated by machine learning designed to grab and hold our attention. If you’re new to this important subject and want to see where it’s heading, can I suggest that you start with the column and then move to Charles’s essay?

Closer to the machine: an elegy for the humble gear-lever

Nice piece by Ian Bogost which will appeal to petrolheads. His car doesn’t have an automatic gearbox and he likes it that way. Manually changing gear makes him feel that he is operating his car, not just driving it. That’s why he’s had what the Americans call “stick shifts” for the last 20 years. But he senses that manual transmission is doomed, and not just by the move to EVs.

The manual transmission, however marginal it has become during the smartphone age, remains a vestige of direct, mechanical control. When a driver changes speeds, their intention can be fruitfully realized in gratifying action, meshing literal gears. Even when your hand slips and the gears grind, the device still speaks in a way you can understand.

To lament the end of the manual transmission is to eulogize much more than shifting gears. When the manual dies, little about driving will fall away that hasn’t already been lost. But we’ll lose something bigger and more important: the comfort of knowing that there is one essential, everyday device still out there that you can actually feel operating. Even if you don’t own a stick, or if you don’t know how to drive one, its mere existence signals that a more embodied technology is possible—that it once was common, even—and that humans and machines really can commune. The stick shift is a form of hope, but it’s one we’ll soon have left behind.


My commonplace booklet

Bull charges into bank but omits to make a deposit

You think I’m joking? Well, this is from The Times of Israel:

Financial institutions normally welcome a bull market, but workers at Bank Leumi in the central city of Lod were not amused on Monday when an angry bull bashed into several cars in their parking lot before charging through the hallways.

The bull’s owner, a resident of the city, was called to the bank offices to help extract the bovine. Video showed several people baiting the bull, trying to get it to charge down a corridor and into a makeshift trap they had made that would allow them to tie a rope around it.

The Lod Municipality said a city-employed veterinarian eventually stunned the bull to make it easier to restrain him…

The report includes an hilarious video of amateur toreadors trying to lure the animal into a trap.

The good news, as Quartz observed, is that it was a bank rather than a china shop.

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