Wednesday 5 July, 2023

On the beach

Benedict Evans (see Long Read below) used Midjourney to create this image in response to the prompt “A photograph of advertising people discussing creativity on stage in a panel on a beach at Cannes Lions.”

Reflecting on it, Ben observes:

It’s matched the pattern almost perfectly – that looks like the beach at Cannes, these people are dressed like advertising people, and they even have the right haircuts. But it doesn’t know anything, and so it doesn’t know that people never have three legs, only that it’s unlikely. This isn’t ‘lying’ or ‘making things up’ – it’s matching a pattern, imperfectly.

Quote of the Day

”Cemeteries are full of indispensable men.”

  • Charles de Gaulle

They sure are.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with Prince, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Steve Winwood


Thanks to Keith Devlin (Whom God Preserve) for suggesting it.

Long Read of the Day

 AI and the automation of work

Benedict Evans’s characteristically perceptive reflections on how ‘Generative AI’ will change the employment landscape over the longer term. What I love about his essays is his knack for finding images and metaphors which elegantly illuminate a particular point.

At one stage in the essay, for example, he’s making a point that I’ve often tried to make myself in lectures about how revolutionary spreadsheet software was when it first appeared in the late 1970s. But he does it with a still from a 1960 film The Apartment. It shows Jack Lemmon (though Ben calls him ‘Lemon’) as an insurance clerk using a mechanical calculating machine in a huge open-plan office populated by other clerks doing exactly the same thing. Here’s Ben’s payoff:

Everyone in that shot is a cell in a spreadsheet, and the whole building is a spreadsheet. Once a week someone on the top floor presses F9 and they recalculate. But they already had computers, and in 1965 or 1970 they bought a mainframe, and scrapped all the adding machines. Did white collar employment collapse? Or, as IBM advertised, did a computer give you 150 extra engineers? 25 years later, what did the PC revolution, and the accounting department in a box, do to accounting?

Enjoyable, informative and worth reading. Go to it.

Doc Searls: Moving on 

Many moons ago Doc Searls and Dave Winer, two of the Wise Elders of the Net, were Berkman Fellows at Harvard, and one of the innovative things they did was to persuade the Center to host blogs. Doc moved his blog onto the server. I think that Dave continued to use his own, but he may also have blogged on the Berkman site for a while. Now, though, Harvard is shutting down the server and this was Doc’s final post on it. I’m looking forward to seeing where he’ll host it from now on.

The tale of two ships

Titan and the Adriana

One of the more nauseating aspects of mainstream media in the last few weeks has been the contrast between the obsessive interest in the fate of a five-person submersible containing five people with more money than sense, and the relative lack of interest in a boat criminally overloaded with migrants which, despite being overseen by a Greek coastguard ship, capsized with the loss of 600 people. One conventional apologia for the twisted news-values involved is that the Titan story had a ticking-time-bomb aspect (when would they run out of oxygen?), whereas the Greek tragedy was ‘just one of those disasters that had already happened’.

But had it not also embodied an implicit valuation that one super-rich life is effectively equivalent to 120 migrant lives?

My commonplace booklet

On December 5, 2022, Tortoise Media (of which I am a proud member) published a podcast by Paul Caruana Galizia setting out claims of serious sexual misconduct by Crispin Odey, founder and owner of one of the UK’s most successful hedge funds. The response? Zilch. A few weeks later Odey was lauded at a hedge-fund knees-up during which his company was named the best-performing fund of the year (with gains of 101% over the year). In other words, if you had invested your fortune in his fund, then he had doubled it for you in a year.

But then Mr Galizia teamed up with two remarkable investigative reporters on the Financial Times (Madison Marriage and Antonia Cundy) and the trio did more serious digging, eventually coming up with a story published in the FT on 8 June – “How Crispin Odey evaded sexual assault allegations for decades”. The reporters had found thirteen women who had experienced harassment and abuse at the hands of the founder and 75% owner of the hedge fund.

Only then did the Odey empire start to unravel. Three big banks announced that they would no longer co-operate with the fund, investors stampeded to get their money back and in the end the remaining partners expelled Odey from his creature.

On the face of it, this looks gratifying: evil is detected, exposed and punished. But an awkward question remains: given that Odey’s predilections were well known both inside and outside his company, and he had faced — and been acquitted after — a criminal case about his behaviour some time earlier, why did nothing happen even after Tortoise broke the story in the first place?

This is the question that Paul Caruna Galizia has now told in a fascinating podcast the other day. It’s basically a story of how serious money, polite society and the law enabled one of the UK’s most successful and powerful hedge funders, amid mounting allegations of sexual harassment and assault over many decades, to prosper for years. The only heroines in the story are the women he abused — and the journalists who did the digging needed to make it impossible for the establishment to ignore.

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