Saturday, May 30th, 2020
The editor of Spiked castigates the media for misreporting facts on Dominic Cummings’ lockdown behavior. But Brendan O’Neill’s disingenuous focus on disingenuous facts misses the larger disreputable truth.
Which is that a senior head needs to roll for the UK Government’s humiliating and deadly botching of its initial response to the pandemic (that many of the leaders themselves contracted the disease is emblematic of this failure).
Since elections will not be held for years, the next best thing to the PM’s head is that of his high-profile advisor. And this is fitting: as the great visionary and strategist, Cummings should have been the one who got the PM to take the pandemic seriously in good time.
So the details of Cummings’ hypocritical behaviours under lockdown are merely the pretext for the humiliation that the public is just for him and this Government. His firing would be the catharsis that marks entry into the next phase of this pandemic; indeed these are political norms. Instead we slouch deeper into uncharted political as well as medical and economic territory.
Thursday, May 28th, 2020
Sauna: The Finnish Bath
H J Viherjuuri
Even in English translation, this relatively slim definitive work on Finnish sauna is filled with the dignity that seems to come with everything Finland. The author notes that the Finnish way of hot bathing — heating rocks and occasionally pouring water on them to produce steam — is the only one that can be both dry and wet.
Something new to me is that feet can take — and require — more heat than the rest of the body, so that not only should one be mostly prone in the sauna rather than sitting in order to heat the body equally (the hotter parts of a sauna are closer to the ceiling), but the feet can be even higher, so that a ledge or feet stirrups might be good.
Wednesday, May 27th, 2020
“We’ll be lucky if we just get a cold war.” Nouriel Roubini seems on the money that we’re outta money.
He says it’ll be a decade of depression, but why even only a decade? Covid-19 aside, massive change is coming, because Peak Stuff.
So a thought: why must retail be the heart of the economy? What if we were to become a civilization not of shopkeepers, nor even of marketers, but researchers?
Marketing could move from the core to the margins, with us only buying what we need, which is a lot less than what we’ve been buying to date, while taxes — collected on the profits gathered by a select few conglomerates manufacturing super efficiently with automation — pay for tons and tons of scientific research.
Most people being scientists: perhaps less chimera than inevitability?
Tuesday, May 26th, 2020
John Gruber awakens me to the difference between coding and programming. Coding is a means to a more distant end, the software product, whereas programming has a nearer end, a program.
A program is a thing worthy itself of attention and appreciation, whereas code, lacking the definite article, is not.
technovelgy.com, where science meets fiction, and a glorious taste of the old web.
Monday, May 25th, 2020
I’m not sure that there’s much in Deep Work by Cal Newport that I didn’t already know, but I nonetheless felt like seeing these ideas conveyed in an organized and impassioned way. My own way of working is already akin to what Newport suggests — for instance I disabled push email on my laptop years ago, and stopped using social media a couple of years ago.
Although he refers quite frequently to David Allen and GTD, one thing he does encourages that is not a GTD emphasis is setting time limits to work sessions with a view to working quicker — like say the Pomodoro Technique but not necessarily stuck on 25-minute periods.
I personally have eschewed this because I feel that with my work, you keep plugging away until the problem is solved. But I do see that there are many benefits to limiting the time on a task, one of them being (though I don’t think Newport mentions this) that it can make the task feel less onerous and intimidating if you know you’re only going to need to work on it for a limited period of time.
One immediate application for me was to start working on a somewhat mindless administrative task that normally takes me one or two full boring days. I realize that if I work on it an hour a day for a week or so, it will be all in all less onerous (and on time).
Sunday, May 24th, 2020
Friday, May 22nd, 2020
So now I understand the source of the myriad of preposterously-priced online courses I come across with preposterous limited-time-only sign-ups. Preposterously-priced because they have merely broken up into a series of articles or videos the sort of materials that would normally go into a book priced an order of magnitude or two lower; and preposterously time-limited because they are online and so can be purchased at any time. It’s from the “secret formula to sell almost anything online” from this book Launch by Jeff Walker.
To be fair, Walker stresses that limited-time-only purchasing should be a genuine constraint resulting from the nature of the product, even if many acolytes seem to ignore this part. And his general admonition that a product launch matters and requires much preparation is something to take seriously. But I think regarding a SaaS, launches can be multiple and almost irrelevant to the product itself; launches are marketing activities that can be about any new feature no matter how trivial.
But I’m not responding directly to the book here, rather to my irritation at what it spawned. There is some good marketing advice here certainly, it’s just that I just don’t find marketing very interesting. More fool me.
Thursday, May 21st, 2020
SARS-CoV-2 apparently interferes with the body’s one-two process of knocking out a virus, reports Stat News on discoveries made by Benjamin tenOever of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The virus blocks the production of interferons by infected cells, which slows down viral replication. But the signal to bring in killer cells goes unabated. The result is an arms race of virus and inflammatory cytokines within the lungs. Ingestion of interferons could redress this problem.
Monday, May 18th, 2020
Sunday, May 17th, 2020
The Making of Prince of Persia
Video game maker Jordan Mechner wrote a rich diary of his life in the mid-1980s. This book covers the creation his second hit game, Prince of Persia, so we gain access of unique immediacy to the heroic tale of producing a universe-dent-making hit.
I wanted this book, which I discovered via Tyler Cowen’s most recent What I’ve been reading, as inspiration during a small lull in morale as I work on a digital product of my own.
Thirty years on there is some poignancy in that this early period of Mencher’s life was the peak: after graduating Yale, already dreamily successful, he shuttles between San Francisco and Hollywood creating video games and pushing screenplays, a digital Orson Welles (in his later game The Last Express, Mechner combines these passions, relying on cinema to produce an impressive commercial failure).
That said, perhaps it is no failure at all that one can point to the creative peak of a life — Mechner’s arguably was working within the memory constraints of the Apple II to create a foe, Shadow Man, based on the hero character. Here I’m reminded of Ken Kocienda’s not dissimilar Eureka moment when up against a constraint, that of using a dictionary to help create the iPhone keyboard.
Perhaps it would have been a better book if he had fleshed out the journal with an italicized retrospective written now, but count me a late-arrival Jordan Mechner fan. And don’t get the Kindle edition lacking the illustrations; I think I’m gonna need to buy the actual book.
Thursday, May 14th, 2020
The comfort of having an organization is largely illusory; it still comes down to one programmer in the end.
Jordan Mechner, The Making of Prince of Persia
In the morning I put in the stair-climbing, and in the evening, the sword-sheathing.
Jordan Mechner, The Making of Prince of Persia
Monday, May 11th, 2020
Saturday, May 9th, 2020
Writing in The New Atlantis, Yuval Levin explicates in “Prudence in a Storm” the terrible opportunity cost of the politics of partisan catastrophizing:
We should be capable of seeing the difference between a crisis rooted in a chronic problem that demands to be addressed within the normal bounds of our political culture and a rare, extreme emergency that requires us to suspend some of the usual frameworks of our politics and mobilize massively but temporarily to respond.
Wednesday, May 6th, 2020
Tuesday, May 5th, 2020
Saturday, April 25th, 2020
The biggest balagan ever, the USA’s flailing then failing pandemic response:
By the time the virus broke on American shores, the problem was not that the United States didn’t have a single plan for an international pandemic. The problem was it had dozens of plans, totaling thousands of pages, issued by different agencies and by different administrations, apparently with little thought to how they would be combined or who would implement them.
Friday, April 24th, 2020
Thursday, April 23rd, 2020
Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020
Sunday, April 19th, 2020
The eleven days in question are 12th–23rd March. Eleven days in which the [UK] government decided to give up with contact tracing and do, well, nothing. Mass gatherings were still allowed (because “science”). Concerts and racing and Champions’ League football. Pubs. Public transport. Everything. The over-70s, it must be conceded, were advised to avoid cruises.
Friday, April 17th, 2020
A brief survey of Israeli exit strategies for coronavirus lockdown, including the 5/2 and the alternate week plans.
The Bar-Ilan alternate week lockdown strategy by Dror Meidan, Reuven Cohen, Simcha Haber & Baruch Barzel.
We propose an alternating lock-down strategy, in which at every instance, half of the population remainsunder lock-down while the other half continues to be active, maintaining a routine of weeklysuccession between activity and lock-down. All symptomatic individuals continue to remainin isolation. Under this regime, if an individual was exposed during their active week, by thetime they complete their lock-down they will already begin to exhibit symptoms. Hence thisstrategy isolates the majority of exposed individuals during their asymptomatic phase.
Monday, April 13th, 2020
Two useful data visualization resources on Covid-19 (AKA the Kung Flu, lest we forget):
Sunday, April 12th, 2020
Robert D. Kaplan on our de-globalized future:
The answer is not merely a tighter public-private embrace coupled with more interagency coordination; rather, it is to recover the American brand so that the private sector feels comfortable working with the public one in the first place.
The American brand is the strongest there has ever been. But the Anglosphere must rediscover the tao of commerce and government.
In “The Unbearable Rightness of Trump”, the redoubtable Andrew Klavan recounts his erstwhile amusement watching the video mash-up of Trump saying “China”, only to realize later that the then presidential candidate was correct in his focus.
Klavan’s anecdote rings home precisely for me; I too was so amused that I showed the video to my son for laughs. When it matters most, and behind the weird performant exterior, Donald Trump’s vision pierces through the fog to the essence of a situation. That is why he is President.
Wednesday, April 8th, 2020
In 2006, Schwarzenegger as Governor of California built up a pandemic stockpile in the wake of avian flu that Jerry Brown subsequently sold off for pennies on the dollar. The initial cost was $200m, the amount saved annually by eliminating the program $6m. Which shows the issue of unpreparedness is totally bipartisan and systemic; indeed it is civiliizational.
Friday, April 3rd, 2020
Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life
Nusseibeh’s central thesis (well, secondary thesis, the primary implicit one being that the Palestinian people should all along have appointed both his Dad and then him their oh-so-reluctant leaders) I too have felt almost in my bones: that Israelis and Palestinians are natural allies. Or, more accurately, that there’s a natural affinity which will enable us to be powerful allies if and when we ever get over our admittedly fundamental conflict.
Thursday, April 2nd, 2020
Wednesday, April 1st, 2020
Tuesday, March 31st, 2020
In times of infectious airborne disease, the burden of proof shouldn’t on wearing a mask, it should be on not wearing one. Scott Alexander at Slate Star Codex reviews the scientific literature on mask-wearing.
Sunday, March 29th, 2020
Saturday, March 28th, 2020
Wednesday, March 25th, 2020