Self Wright

Month: June 2016

The world after Brexit

I think the real lesson ought to be to stop trusting your instinctive feelings about what can and cannot (or should and should not) happen, and start taking polls seriously. A corollary would be to  check if you’re living in a bubble and if so, to peek outside it a bit.

Of course, some times even the polls can be “read” in a way that makes you feel better. As a more concrete example, here is Nate Silver with a column just six months ago, (boldly!) titled “Dear Media, Stop Freaking Out About Donald Trump’s Polls”. Go ahead and read the comments at the bottom.

Personal Media Summary: May 2016


Neolithic geometric earthworks in Kazakhstan (Image credit: New York Times)


Random selection of interesting reads from May …

  • To start with a good old pessimistic note, Evgeny Morozov discusses1 “a new age of feudalism”.

Since data – the fuel of advertising markets – is the source of their profits, tech firms are happy to offer, at highly subsidised rates, services and goods that yield even more data. Ultimately there is no limit as to what kind of goods and services those could be: they might have started with browsing and social networking, but they are as happy to track us exercise, eat, drive or even make love: for them, it’s all just data – and data means cash.

All these subsidies, though, make it hard to understand what the underlying goods and services cost. And as these firms transcend our browsers and smartphones and enter into our homes and cars and bodies, we should expect even more distortion of price signals.

Izabella Kaminska, one of Alphaville’s lead writers, even thinks that we are facing the Gosplan 2.0 – a Soviet-like system of technocratic elites who, flush with cash from desperate investors, allocate money as they see fit based on purely subjective criteria, favouring some groups over others, and using proceeds from their advertising business to fund exotic “moonshot” projects of dubious civic significance.

  • Dana Milbank had famously promised to “eat his column” if Trump became his nominee, and dutifully followed through2

  • If you don’t know or care about Terence McKenna, feel free to skip this paragraph (but you’ve already read this far, and besides, this is my blog). A rare retrospective3 in Vice magazine looks at the history of the less famous psychedelic compound (usually overshadowed by its more famous sibling, DMT) that binds to serotonin receptors and … well, you had to be there (aside: there is whole series4 of these articles)

  • Ditto about Tesla (sigh, no, not the car, the guy). Here is an old article5, for purposes of nostalgia and perhaps more.

  • I am amazed that stuff like this6 is still out there to be discovered. In a nod to the use of modern technology for good, some of this was discovered by amateurs poring over Google Earth imagery. The image at the top of this post is a square with an ‘X’ measuring more than 900 feet on each side, and thought to be about 8000 years old.

  • The sequel7 to Blade Runner will be out soon, and apparently the question of whether or not Rick Deckard was a replicant is a big part of the story.

  • The Baffler has a very long and interesting but unfortunately also very scattered article, on memes, Tim O’Reilly, language, Neil Postman, Korzybski, language … and more. It’s a pity they didn’t write five separate articles.

… something odd is happening to our language. Old, trusted words no longer mean what they used to mean; often, they don’t mean anything at all. Our language, much like everything these days, has been hacked. Fuzzy, contentious, and complex ideas have been stripped of their subversive connotations and replaced by cleaner, shinier, and emptier alternatives; long-running debates about politics, rights, and freedoms have been recast in the seemingly natural language of economics, innovation, and efficiency.

  • Part fascinating, part horrifying, part tragic, a history8 of the “Manila Galleons” and a case for how they ushered in global capitalism.

  • Psychedelia lingers on (though this article9 is less about psilocybin and more about the most famous drug, LSD)

  • Came across this gem10 (part landscape, part dream) thanks to Google’s online curation of various museum exhibits (recommend the Chrome extension of this!)

  • Oh boy oh boy … I remember seeing these images when I was a kid: the O’Neill cylinders11 were once a futuristic imagination of what the status quo of space living would be like, when we would (soon!) leave planet earth and live among the stars (yeah, didn’t quite work out that way, eh?)

  • Finally, a great indirect tribute12 to Philip Glass: footage from Interstellar backed by music from Koyaanisqatsi and Watchmen (enjoy!)

On World Building

Something I came across (and which would be lost, but for the Wayback Machine):

Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding is dull. Worldbuilding literalises the urge to invent. Worldbuilding gives an unneccessary permission for acts of writing (indeed, for acts of reading). Worldbuilding numbs the reader’s ability to fulfil their part of the bargain, because it believes that it has to do everything around here if anything is going to get done.

Above all, worldbuilding is not technically neccessary. It is the great clomping foot of nerdism. It is the attempt to exhaustively survey a place that isn’t there. A good writer would never try to do that, even with a place that is there. It isn’t possible, & if it was the results wouldn’t be readable: they would constitute not a book but the biggest library ever built, a hallowed place of dedication & lifelong study. This gives us a clue to the psychological type of the worldbuilder & the worldbuilder’s victim, & makes us very afraid.


On machines that interpret speech

Found this in a book review from the 1970s (“Computer Power and Human Reason”, incidentally written by the guy who also wrote Eliza)


Monthly Recap: May 2016

Mega Bloks

Eating, sleeping, playing, running, meeting friends, a few trips to the Farmer’s Market downtown, etc.

I saw a couple of episodes of Midsomer Murders and mourned the passing of Book Buyers from Mountain View (though I’ve heard they set up shop again in Gilroy, good for them).

Also, finally put something I wrote “out there”, even if it’s just some genre-less mish-mash right now.

Got a bunch of big-sized “Mega Bloks” that should do until the days of Lego arrive, they’re fun for all of us right now(!)

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