Thursday, October 7th, 2021
From the bubbling, dexterous mind of Venkatesh Rao we have two rich essays posted within two days: “Storytelling — Cringe and the Banality of Shadows” and “Remystifying Supply Chains: Supply chains are TV for matter”.
The supply chain crisis is in some ways more unprecedented than Covid itself, given that containerized supply chains, and the world of distributed, networked, computationally coordinated production they enabled, are only a few decades old.
This is the first crisis of this magnitude to hit them.
To find a comparable crisis in history you have to go back to World War 2, with U boats sinking transatlantic shipping. And that was in an era when global trade was less than a third of today’s levels if I’m not mistaken (as a fraction of GDP) and still in the ancient mode of breakbulk shipping.
Angry divides over cultural and identity-group issues often mask—in fact may be deliberately used to mask—unanimity at the top of the system when it comes to condoning or participating in corruption.
Sarah Chayes, Everybody Knows: Corruption in America
Wednesday, October 6th, 2021
Criminalizing the criminalization of politics is akin to the wonder performed by Aeschylus’ Eumenides, which turned revenge into law—high statesmanship.
Angelo Codevilla, The Ruling Class
Thursday, September 30th, 2021
More Stanford student bikers are observed wearing masks than helmets. OK now it’s just a pandemic of idiocy.
Also today I noted a pic of Israel’s foreign minister Yair Lapid stepping out of an aircraft at Bahrain’s airport. He was alone on the middle steps, his aides up top at the aircraft doors, the welcoming committee on the tarmac, yet he was masked. Covid theater undermines our public confidence in following sensible guidelines when they are actually sensible and salutary.
Sometimes you come across an essay you intended to write and somebody’s more or less done it for you, in this case an attempt to philosophize on the concept of work by Jonathan Malesic in the University of Virginia’s Hedgehog Review.
A few nights ago I considered for the first time the direct semantic connection between the troublesome English term “happy” and the less fraught “happening”; happily, there seems to be a connection between them that’s not mere happenstance. And here this essay begins to explicate that thought:
The Crow [a Native American tribe who live on the northern plains] built their culture around hunting buffalo and “counting coups”—an activity that encompasses both feats of bravery in war and recitations of stories about those feats. Once white settlers killed off the buffalo and placed the Crow under the US government’s jurisdiction in the 1880s, the basis for Crow culture was gone. “After this nothing happened,” the Crow chief Plenty Coups told a white historian decades later.
Tuesday, September 28th, 2021
Anne Helen Petersen writes about Revenge procrastinatory bedtime — I’m guilty myself of practicing it and have noticed it lately, so it’s good to see the phenom labeled and articulated:
It’s illogical and annoying and only makes things worse. But it’s also what our souls do when we refuse to nourish them. They sabotage our most perfect intentions for sleep, because sleep is not the same as leisure. Don’t get me wrong; sleep is great. It can be deeply restorative. But it also requires us to be, well, unconscious.
Sunday, September 26th, 2021
It’s tough living in a place where everyone think it’s ok to be an asshole.
Gavriel Peretz [on Israel]
Friday, September 24th, 2021
It’s the greatest gig in the world, being alive; you get to eat at Denny’s, wear a hat, whatever you wanna do.
Monday, August 2nd, 2021
Scuzzball extraordinaire Piers Corbyn is caught on camera accepting a bribe from a bogus AstraZeneca investor with a request to focus his very righteous ire on Pfizer and Moderna. Awesome!
Sunday, August 1st, 2021
A great topic, covered well: in Wired, Clive Thompson surveys the problem with productivity software:
To-do lists are, in the American imagination, a curiously moral type of software. Nobody opens Google Docs or PowerPoint thinking “This will make me a better person.” But with to-do apps, that ambition is front and center.
Tuesday, July 27th, 2021
Tuesday, July 20th, 2021
I wanted a way in Apple Mail to list all emails from VIPs to which I’ve not yet replied. After googling, I found a nice solution at MakeUseOf: “4 Mac Mail Productivity Tips All Professionals Must Know” (2019).
So I made a Smart Mailbox “VIP Unreplied” with all the following rules:
- Sender is VIP
- Message was not replied to
does not containdonotreply
- Message is not in mailbox “Already Replied”
And in the “Already Replied” Smart Mailbox:
- Message has flag: Green
This second one because sometimes a message is handled in some other way than a reply or doesn’t need one.
Sunday, July 18th, 2021
This top-draw (The New Republic) essay on James Bond and Ian Fleming is ostensibly disparaging about its subject, but author Scott Bradfield’s sheer depth of knowledge marks him a fan. Another clue: although it’s a book review of The World Is Not Enough: A Biography of Ian Fleming by Oliver Buckton, in the entire piece Buckton’s name is mentioned just once! This guy Bradfield’s clearly been chomping at the bit to write something Bondy.
Friday, July 9th, 2021
Michael Pollan writes just wonderfully of his coffee withdrawal.
In this new normal, the world seemed duller to me. I seemed duller, too. Mornings were the worst. I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep. That reconsolidation of self took much longer than usual, and never quite felt complete.
So much more to quote here; he takes a little meander into intellectual history before returning, now a bit further along in time, to his own predilection. Then on to the science.
Wednesday, July 7th, 2021
The Guardian posts an excerpt from Gillian Tett’s Anthro-Vision. Regarding working from home, a senior trader at JP Morgan observed:
The really big problem was incidental information exchange. “The bit that’s very hard to replicate is the information you didn’t know you needed,” observed Charles Bristow, a senior trader at JP Morgan. “[It’s] where you hear some noise from a desk a corridor away, or you hear a word that triggers a thought. If you’re working from home, you don’t know that you need that information.” Working from home also made it hard to teach younger bankers how to think and behave; physical experiences were crucial for conveying the habits of finance or being an apprentice.
Thursday, July 1st, 2021
Michael Allen Smith of INeedCoffee.com goes without drinking his beloved bean for a whole month:
For a good chunk of the month, I was extremely sad. It was like a death in the family. It was during the depths of this period that I realized that I had been using coffee as a way to avoid feeling down. And I had been doing that multiple times a day for two decades.
Tuesday, June 29th, 2021
Chaos Monkeys: Inside the Silicon Valley Money Machine
Antonio Garcia Martinez
As author Antonio García Martínez battles away as an eager newcomer at Facebook, his account jolts one awake to the somewhat forgotten power of literature: we are reminded that what will survive these times will likely not be the mammoth trillion dollar company but instead this book.
And shame on Apple, caving to those who campaigned to have Martinez fired recently from his new job there because of some gross and silly yet heartfelt generalization in the book of San Francisco womenfolk; such philistine snowflakes do little more than buttress his point, as well as forcing our author to remain up on these more commanding if perhaps less remunerative cultural heights.
Sunday, June 13th, 2021
Good Risk advice dressed up as systems thinking [via Hacker News].
A few further points. First, the dynamic of the game becomes more stark once players are eliminated; in the 3-man game is it better to be strongest, weakest or in the middle? More tactically, in the 2-man game I think it’s decisively better to abandon Australia because your defensive army is likely to be blocked and at this point you need all your offense.
Patton neglects feints, such as pretending to leave the game and letting the rather dumb AI take over your turn; as a bot, players tend to consider you less a threat and leave you alone, often to the point of weakening each other tremendously, figuring they’ll deal with the dumb bot later. A more complex feint is mimic being a newbie who does not know the principles Patton describes, though honestly I’ve not tried this and it seems difficult to pull off, as you do lose real armies being stupid, and as soon as you start behaving sensibly you may appear even more formidable; the trick here then would be to play dumb until the very end.
Perhaps more importantly is to keep in mind the pathetic fallacy, to remember that when behaving judiciously and prudently in dealing with the strongest player, relying on the self-interest of others to do so as well, they may not get it, and behave stupidly and weaken themselves against someone else, enabling the strongest player to then sweep to victory.
Friday, June 11th, 2021
Via Hacker News, and in the grand spirit of Charlie Munger’s edict to “Invert, always invert,” this is Julio Merino on “Always be Quitting”.
So what does it mean to always be quitting? It means “making yourself replaceable”; “deprecating yourself”; “automating yourself out of your job” … The key lies in NOT being indispensable … Paradoxically, by being disposable, you free yourself. You make it easier for yourself to grow into a higher-level role and you make it easier for yourself to change the projects you work on.
Wednesday, June 9th, 2021
I wouldn’t want to work on anything I didn’t want to take over my life.
Paul Graham, A Project of One’s Own
Saturday, June 5th, 2021
We are so used to saying “The internet changed everything” that we have forgotten it changed everything.
Peggy Noonan, What Drives Conspiracism
Monday, May 24th, 2021
The fact that there are landscapes of mind this vast lurking on the other side of a mushroom is simply preposterous.
Monday, May 17th, 2021
What are we to do with how loathsome we find our public selves? Meghan O’Gieblyn writes:
Like many people who become writers, I believed the page offered a way out, a loophole in the world knot. It was only there, with work and deliberation, that the soul became flesh and I could speak in a voice I recognized as my own.
Wednesday, May 12th, 2021
Every scientific or technological revolution tears down yet another anthropocentric conceit.
Venkatesh Rao, Superhistory, Not Superintelligence
Thursday, May 6th, 2021
Top 20 racing cheats by Preston Lerner at Hagerty, a reminder that rules are made to be… stretched.
Friday, April 23rd, 2021
There is no correlation — in fact, probably an inverse correlation — between how badly you behave and how much money you make.
Paul Graham, Billionaires Build
Thursday, April 22nd, 2021
Thursday, April 15th, 2021
Craig Mod reveals the consolations of we the web-literate as he tinkers with his servers. Plus the man walks and writes rather well and is probably tall to boot.
Friday, April 2nd, 2021
It’s hard to do a really good job on anything you don’t think about in the shower.
Paul Graham, The Top Idea in Your Mind
Sunday, January 24th, 2021
Upending the conventional wisdom that happiness does not increase beyond an annual household income of $75,000, this study, using random ongoing smartphone check-ins, demonstrates a continued increase in well-being as income rises.
Monday, December 21st, 2020
High Output Management
Andrew S. Grove
In his careful, cogent and memorable take on effective management, Silicon Valley founding father Andy Grove places a surprising emphasis on meetings; he has the temerity to take issue with — or at least, refine — Peter Drucker’s admonition that they’re a waste of time. Grove’s issue: meetings are the very medium of management; his refinement: that there are actually two major types of meeting, routine and ad hoc, and it’s where there’s a profusion of the latter that something’s amiss.
This erstwhile CEO of Intel notes that while most management books are targeted either at the very top or the very bottom — at the CEO or at those who directly manage frontline workers — the majority of managers manage other managers, and it’s for them he mostly writes, the middle managers.
The book has the authority of someone eager to share lessons from his own extensive experience — indeed he seems to have always worked with one eye towards gaining such knowledge, in no small part because being able to convey what one knows ensures that one actually understands it; that is, managers should also write and teach.
Grove defines the aim of management as increasing the productivity of subordinates, which can be achieved in only two ways: by improving their skills and by improving their motivation. Skills are improved by training, which the manager should undertake himself, considering it not busywork but an opportunity to solidify his own understanding and role-model corporate behavior. Motivation meanwhile is improved best via one-on-one performance reviews. These measures for corporate success are bracingly clear and specific — both the reasoning behind them and how to undertake them.
A refugee from Nazi Europe, Grove may be a legend yet the book is suffused with a democratic humility, a great American sense that success can be approached by all as an engineering problem. A book among books.
PS — A high testament: I actually remembered all these points without reopening High Output Management. I don’t think that’s ever happened before.
Tuesday, December 15th, 2020
Ross Douthat in his typical perfect way essays on American childbearing in the really nice magazine Plough.
Tuesday, November 10th, 2020
There’s a big difference between nothing and almost nothing, when it’s multiplied by the area under the sun.
Paul Graham, General & Surprising
Thursday, August 20th, 2020
The iPhone matters more than anything … it is the foundation of modern life.
Ben Johnson, “Apple, Epic, and the App Store”
Saturday, August 15th, 2020
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos
Jordan Peterson has huge charisma, period, and his recent travails serve to render him even more human. His efforts to ground our current unmoored times (the chaos referred to in the title) in the fertile garden of our intellectual and spiritual heritage (the curative order) are the work of the angels.
The first of his 12 Rules for Life is Nietzschian, an evolutionary biological backgrounder for the maxim to fake it till you make it. The second is Rousseauian: we must love ourselves with amour de soi rather than amour-propre. But the whole thing — and particularly this second rule — is peppered with discussion of founts fundamental to me — Genesis, Taoism, Jung — so that the book feels like it fell out of my own mind, albeit a more disciplined, erudite, deeper version.
Either because of this over-familiarity or because the book is in fact junk food, I cannot remember anything of it as I revisit a few weeks later to write this. Is Peterson merely an Alain de Botton of the Right, a popularizer / informal codifier of what every self-respecting Westerner already knows? Either I need to pick up the book and start again, or perhaps stop reading everything else and get back to the Bible, Plato and Aristotle.
Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020
We’re humans; fun matters.
Tuesday, July 21st, 2020
In an artificial world, only extremists live naturally.
Paul Graham, “You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss”
The essence of programming is to build new things.
Paul Graham, “You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss”
A normal job may be as bad for us intellectually as white flour or sugar is for us physically.
Paul Graham, “You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss”
Monday, July 20th, 2020
For those who care to be reminded, Edward Feser writes in The American Mind a straight-shooting review of Plato’s political thought.
The first thing to keep in mind in order to understand Plato’s analysis of democracy is that he is not primarily concerned with procedural matters, such as the way in which people are elected or policies decided upon. What he cares about, again, is the character type that predominates in a society.
Thursday, July 16th, 2020
Thank you, The Atlantic, for daring to publish John McWhorter’s eminently sensible review of Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. My faith is somewhat renewed.
McWhorter holds back more than on the freewheeling The Glenn Show, where he calls it “one of the worst books ever written”.
Saturday, July 11th, 2020
A nice straightforward yet telling piece in Prospect Magazine on ambivalence towards domesticity.
Friday, July 3rd, 2020
Saturday, June 6th, 2020
“The Problem of White Efficacy” by Rebekah Frumkin in Guernica. Totally mental.
Saturday, May 30th, 2020
The editor of Spiked castigates the media for misreporting facts on Dominic Cummings’ lockdown behavior. But Brendan O’Neill’s focus on possibly disingenuous facts misses the larger disheartening 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 some just humiliation 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 however we slouch further into uncharted territory — political as well as medical and economic.
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.
Monday, May 25th, 2020
I’m doubt there’s much in Deep Work by Cal Newport that I didn’t already know, but I nonetheless had a hankering to see 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
An anonymous employee beneficiary of Twitter’s IPO: “I think a lot of [people in Silicon Valley] care about basic income for everyone, because we’ve lived with it ourselves.”
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