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Generally interesting links – Oct 2021

The “Tsar Bomba” nuclear test on Oct 30, 1961.

Science

History

People, culture, society

  • Cautionary tale: carry water while hiking

  • On the impermanence of digital culture

    • If you’re young today, your formative years depend on auto-deleted snapchat videos, short-lived memes, stories told in computer games likely unplayable in 30 years (without emulation of complex proprietary CPUs and GPUs), and whatever happens to flutter by in a feed. I’m curious what the future of reminiscing will look like, even if all of this is saved somehow. So much to sift through, so few tangible artifacts.
    • Even more traditional culture is less permanent: we get our music and movies from streaming services, we rent our e-books through EULA:s and consume them on devices controlled by the manufacturer. I do most of this myself – but I was young in a different era and I at least have my stacks of CD:s (including bob hund) tucked away in a safe place and shelves full of the prose and movies that shaped me.
    • And yet, despite these and countless other examples, we still put our faith in digital permanence. We create so many mementos we hardly have time to look at them and then we entrust them all to companies and platforms beyond our control, storing them on machines we don’t own using services that could disappear tomorrow. Will Youtube still be there in 50 years? Will Instagram and Dropbox?
    • I mostly have questions, not answers. But I do know that a carefully handled bunch of photographs can last for over a century.
  • Bizarre conference call mishap

    • Once everyone had made the switch to an old-fashioned conference call, the guest told the bankers what they had been wanting to hear: That Ozy was a great success on YouTube. As he spoke, however, the man’s voice began to sound strange to the Goldman Sachs team, as though it might have been digitally altered, the four people said.

    • (later …) A confused Piper told the Goldman Sachs investor that he had never spoken with her before. Someone else, it seemed, had been playing the part of Piper on the call with Ozy.

Computing & Software

Tools

Reader submissions

  • The importance of human tool co-evolution

    • “We are inside the machine”: even truer a decade later (!)
    • “Micro-biome of a massive AI only now being born”
    • “Always get your wish, and always get it wrong”
    • “…. runaway objective function … Growth must go on forever”

btw, I’m always happy to hear about interesting stuff, please feel free to send them over to mail+curation@agambrahma.com

Print roundup

WSJ, on staying the course
Letters to the Economist after a recent issue about “the illiberal left
WSJ, on science and faith

Generally interesting links – Sep 2021

A mammoth-ivory tiara, from a few dozen millennia ago

Science

  • A trove of old Denisovan artifacts
    • Including the first ever stone bracelet …
  • “Matter from light” aka a demonstration of the Briet-Wheeler effect

  • Fungi hunting worms
    • Not something I’d have believed if I hadn’t seen it, since we usually think of “predators catching prey“, etc,

Culture

  • Can’t believe that there is even such a thing: “haunted dolls” on eBay!

  • On NFT-mania
    • “This is the stupidest or the most incredible decision of our lives,” said one buyer of an EtherRock, which are all based on the same free clipart.

  • On “Video games as the new smoking

    In our new reality, videogames is what smoking was in the ’60s. Cheap, damaging and addictive.
    Unfortunately this parallel world is so cool that you start losing interest in the “normal” wonders of reality. A walk in a forest doesn’t interest you that much, in fact it seems boring. They are just trees after all and it is not worth to move your ass from your couch to the outside world. Reality is neither predictable nor comfortable as a video-games.

History

Computing

  • Interesting comparison of the current state of NeoVim and Doom Emacs

  • On the downsides of too much type-level programming

  • From 1992 “the first year of Linux Distributions

    • Slackware and Debian both kicked off in 1993 (and are still rocking to this very day). SUSE rolled along in 1994 (which was, initially, based on Slackware), followed shortly thereafter by Red Hat.
  • Cloudflare’s “disruption” of S3

    • This is where zero egress costs could be an even bigger deal strategically than they are economically. S3 was the foundation of AWS’s integrated cloud offering, and remains the linchpin of the company’s lock-in; what if R2, thanks to its explicit rejection of data lock-in, becomes the foundation of an entirely new ecosystem of cloud services that compete with the big three by being modular? If you can always get access to your data for free, it becomes a lot more plausible to connect that data to best-of-breed compute options built by companies focused on doing one thing well, instead of simply waiting for Amazon to offer up their pale imitation that doesn’t require companies to pay out the nose to access.

 

Zeppelin repair

Came across this in a large coffee-table size book on the Hindenburg.

Imagine doing repairs on the side of this giant airship, while in the middle of the ocean!

An old car

Something about keeping this old car running seemed really inspiring.

Preserving a 1918 Ford Model T

Tale of two articles (2)

Saw these two articles side-by-side, the contrast was too much 🙂

On one hand, “we need to raise the debt ceiling, we’re about to default, the Treasury will exhaust emergency measures“, on the other hand, “we need to borrow another 3.5T”

A tale of two articles

Saw these two in the newspaper today, within two pages of each other, and … it felt like a social commentary of sorts.

Generally interesting links — Aug 2021

Plate XIX from the first volume of Pettigrew’s Design in Nature (1908), illustrating the resemblance between spiral shell formations and bony portions of the inner ear

Science

  • Bio-luminiscent oceans

  • Startling cuttlefish memory: https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/08/cuttlefish-remember-the-what-when-and-where-of-meals-even-into-old-age/

“Cuttlefish can remember what they ate, where, and when, and use this to guide their feeding decisions in the future,” said co-author Alexandra Schnell of the University of Cambridge, who conducted the experiments at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. “What’s surprising is that they don’t lose this ability with age, despite showing other signs of aging like loss of muscle function and appetite.”

  • the “spiralist“, perhaps the most fascinating historical-scientific-insightful thing I’ve read this year

Pettigrew confessed himself totally spellbound by the mystery of Nature’s most ubiquitous, liquid, and quixotic form — the spiral.
Pettigrew’s newspaper model showed that the heart’s double helical structure — now known as the helical ventricular myocardial band (HVMB) — was essentially a triple-twisted Möbius strip.
In both arenas of animal physiology, Pettigrew found a spectacular resonance: movement at once precedes and follows structure, the direction of movement in living things being in every instance determined by the composition and configuration of kinetic spiral parts. This resonance seemed to reach right down to the atomic level. Unlike the closed system of the heart, the spiraling lines of atoms and molecules were arranged so that matter could be added in any amount, in unlimited directions. An open flow of energy and form was the basis for growth and progression in all creatures.

Tools

World events

People

Doctors are baffled by the rare disease and have concluded that he is the only person in the US to have the suction capability.
Not only is he able to stick objects to his skin, but his wounds heal faster, he gets sick less and ages slower than the average person.

27 feet tall. 77 tons. Lead, steel, and glass armor almost two feet thick. A 500 horsepower supercharger engine. Able to withstand 3,000 times more radiation than a human. Mighty claws able to tear, rend, and shred steel with 85,000 pounds of force…yet nimble enough to balance an egg on a spoon.

Computing

One of the questions often asked about the IBM PC is why we chose the Ctrl-Alt-Del reset sequence. We proposed Ctrl-Alt-Del as a warm-boot sequence to provide some of the capability of a reset switch. It is difficult to activate by mistake, since the keys are widely separated. By storing a special character in a particular memory location, the warm boot would bypass the memory-test portion of the power-on self test (POST), taking less time than turning the machine off and back on.

 

Generally interesting links – Jul 2021

History

  • Stone age art “in a new light”

    Torches work best on the move, as their flames need motion to stay lit and produce a lot of smoke. Though torches cast a wide glow, they burn for an average of just 41 minutes, the team found. That suggests several torches would have been needed to travel through caves. Concave stone lamps filled with animal fat, on the other hand, are smokeless and can offer more than an hour of focused, candlelike light. That would have made it easy to stay in one spot for a while. And while fireplaces produce a lot of light, they can also produce a lot of smoke. That type of light source is best suited for large spaces that get plenty of airflow, the researchers say.

Science

  • “What Termites and cells have in common”

    … created a life-like proto-cell energized by chemical potential, which is capable of translating external signals into shape changes in dependence on its own self-organized morphology. With this, the team has revealed how the collective dynamics of nanometer-sized macromolecules self-organize into micrometer patterns that affect the cellular perception of shape-changing extracellular cues in our own cells.

Tech

  • Gartner looking back on their predictions for past hype cycles
    • ‌The most hyped technology in 1995 was Intelligent Agents
    • ‌I think of the Gartner Hype Cycle as a Hero’s Journey for technologies. And just like the hero’s journey, the Hype Cycle is a compelling narrative structure.
    • Missed big trends like “x86 virtualization” and “Open Source” (!!) and NoSQL

Tools

Commentary

  • Andrew Sullivan on the “turn against liberalism” (as an old Obama fan, I find myself agreeing … and as someone who also lived in New York around the same time (the Bloomberg era), I find myself agreeing with this take on Eric Adams)
  • Looking back at an old pessemistic study
  • Slavoj Zizek on how we’re in a pre-WW1 time

Software engineering

  • The “IDE divide
    • language features vs tool features
    • Another view (had to track this down, since it was a broken link that wasn’t captured by archive.org either)
    • Further digression, into a meta-view:

      “There are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t”.

    • Anyway, like all such divides, the final answer to “which one” is “both”
  • A look ahead at computing performance by Brendan Gregg
  • On “Portable and stable software”

Computing

A poetic paradox

Caveat: I like poemhunter.com, but it’s extremely ad-riddled, and the only way it’s tolerable to me any more is in “reader-mode” that strips out all the distracting fluff.

I read random poems, and I recently came across this one.

A phrase from it seems relevant to a certain current in our times:

And the load of their loveless pity is worse than the ancient wrongs, 

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