Personal Media Summary: June 2016

Image credit: Quanta Magazine

Random general reads from June:

  • ”The Cave of Forgotten Dreams” introduced1 me to millennia old human-painted caves, but Bruniquel Cave has been dated2 to an astonishing 176,500 years!
  • The annual internet trends report3 always has something interesting (among other things, internet growth is slowing, mobile use is increasing, and people are increasingly living inside various messaging apps)
  • If you thought HBO’s ”Silicon Valley” did a good job of lampooning its namesake, add one more contender: David Lyon’s new book, ”Disrupted”4, apparently does a pretty good job of savaging “start-up culture” …

“Arriving here feels like landing on some remote island where a bunch of people have been living for years, in isolation, making up their own rules and rituals and religion and language — even, to some extent, inventing their own reality,” Lyons writes, noting that “…every tech start-up seems to be like this. Believing that your company is not just about making money, that there is a meaning and purpose to what you do, that your company has a mission and that you want to be part of that mission — that is a big prerequisite for working at one of these places. How that differs from joining what might otherwise be called a cult is not entirely clear.

  • A fascinating video5 of the construction of a concrete wind turbine shows the assembly of this 379 foot tower.
  • This is either very funny or very tragic, but I can somewhat relate, having just visited here last week: a prank6 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art shows the impossibility of identifying what “art” is (and, in my opinion, the endless scope for farce).
  • The Antikythera mechanism has been known to be 2000 year-old mechanical marvel, but recent X-ray scanning (along with the discovery of a “user’s manual”) seems to suggest7 this was a precise simulator of the planets, sun and moon, showed the phases of the moon and multiple calendars, and attempted to predict eclipses (!)
  • Whether you see it as an explanation or an excuse, a recent article8 links a growing acceptance of theocracy in the muslim world (and populist sentiments elsewhere) to fundamental failures in the secular vision (featuring an interview with Shadi Hamid and a review of his recent book).

It’s interesting that we’re having this conversation at a time when many people, including outside the Middle East, are loosing faith in technocratic, liberal democracy. There’s a desire for a politics of substantive meaning. At the end of the day, people want more than economic tinkering.

I think classical liberalism makes a lot of sense intellectually. But it doesn’t necessarily fill the gap that many people in Europe and the U.S. seem to have in their own lives, whether that means [they] resort to ideology, religion, xenophobia, nationalism, populism, exclusionary politics, or anti-immigrant politics. All of these things give voters a sense that there is something greater.

On a basic level, violence offers meaning. And that’s what makes it scary. In the broader sweep of history, mass violence and mass killing is actually the norm. It’s only in recent centuries that states and institutions have tried to persuade people to avoid such practices.

  • We can count on buildings continuing to get taller, since Adrian Smith (who designed the Burj Khalifa in Dubai) is planning to construct the Jeddah Tower9 in Saudi Arabia, and it’s expected to be more than a kilometer tall(!)
  • This article makes the claim for the return of a sort of “social pension”10, to fix the current state of retirement systems (he/she who lives longest, benefits the most, which sounds a bit dubious to me …)
  • The temples of Angkor Wat are already a popular tourist destination, but a wide area Lidar scan over several years has revealed11 to be only the tip of a massive urban complex (“… the colossal, densely populated cities would have constituted the largest empire on earth at the time of its peak in the 12th century”).
  • It’s bad enough that small book shops and used book shops are gone, so I hope that Barnes & Noble survives its current troubles12 … it’s really the only place where I can physically browse all kinds of stuff.
  • The user experience of the modern web13, with its multiple surveillance-equipped walled gardens is … uh … not as great as expected, and clearly short of the utopian promises14 made two and a half decades ago. Will cryptocurrencies save us? I don’t know …
  • The wonders of the natural world never cease. After months of research deep underground, microbes15 have been found (see image at top) which live off electricity (and aren’t as rare as you’d expect)
  • Finally, my favorite bit of awesomeness and fandom last month was an in-depth look at the typography16 in the Alien movies.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s