Abacus Noir

Self Wright

Orwell and Wells

Another long-form article that I found relevant to the current time; here’s the full article, which was originally written in August 1941, or about eight decades ago.

I present my selections here, but the full article is well worth reading too. Some historical context is needed, but you can get away with very little, and a lot of the content should map to equivalent situations today.

This was written in the middle of the Second World War, about eight years before he wrote 1984.

What is the use of pointing out that a World State is desirable? What matters is that not one of the five great military powers would think of submitting to such a thing. All sensible men for decades past have been substantially in agreement with what Mr. Wells says; but the sensible men have no power and, in too many cases, no disposition to sacrifice themselves. Hitler is a criminal lunatic, and Hitler has an army of millions of men, aeroplanes in thousands, tanks in tens of thousands. For his sake a great nation has been willing to overwork itself for six years and then to fight for two years more, whereas for the common-sense, essentially hedonistic world-view which Mr. Wells puts forward, hardly a human creature is willing to shed a pint of blood.

The energy that actually shapes the world springs from emotions — racial pride, leader-worship, religious belief, love of war — which liberal intellectuals mechanically write off as anachronisms, and which they have usually destroyed so completely in themselves as to have lost all power of action.

If one looks through nearly any book that he has written in the last forty years one finds the same idea constantly recurring: the supposed antithesis between the man of science who is working towards a planned World State and the reactionary who is trying to restore a disorderly past. In novels, Utopias, essays, films, pamphlets, the antithesis crops up, always more or less the same. On the one side science, order, progress, internationalism, aeroplanes, steel, concrete, hygiene: on the other side war, nationalism, religion, monarchy, peasants, Greek professors, poets, horses.

History as he sees it is a series of victories won by the scientific man over the romantic man. Now, he is probably right in assuming that a ‘reasonable,’ planned form of society, with scientists rather than witch-doctors in control, will prevail sooner or later, but that is a different matter from assuming that it is just round the corner.

But unfortunately the equation of science with common sense does not really hold good. The aeroplane, which was looked forward to as a civilising influence but in practice has hardly been used except for dropping bombs, is the symbol of that fact. Modern Germany is far more scientific than England, and far more barbarous. Much of what Wells has imagined and worked for is physically there in Nazi Germany. The order, the planning, the State encouragement of science, the steel, the concrete, the aeroplanes, are all there, but all in the service of ideas appropriate to the Stone Age. Science is fighting on the side of superstition. But obviously it is impossible for Wells to accept this. It would contradict the world-view on which his own works are based. The war-lords and the witch-doctors must fail, the common-sense World State, as seen by a nineteenth-century Liberal whose heart does not leap at the sound of bugles, must triumph. Treachery and defeatism apart, Hitler cannot be a danger.

… nationalism, religious bigotry and feudal loyalty are far more powerful forces than what he himself would describe as sanity. Creatures out of the Dark Ages have come marching into the present, and if they are ghosts they are at any rate ghosts which need a strong magic to lay them.

Random Note #6782036478

A perspective on waste and social media.

From this article

Waste books/Sudelbücher

This sub-genre of notebooks comes out of the tradition of double-entry book keeping where accountants often kept a daily diary of all transactions in chronological order. These temporary notes were then later moved into a more permanent accounting ledger and the remaining book was considered “waste”.

In the commonplace book tradition, these books for temporary notes or (fleeting notes in a Zettelkasten framing), might eventually be copied over, expanded, and indexed into one’s permanent commonplace collection.

In modern digital settings, one might consider some of the ephemeral social media stream platforms like Twitter to be a digital version of a waste book, though to my knowledge I may be the first person to suggest this connection. (To be clear, others have certainly mentioned Twitter as being a waste and even a wasteland.)

A first NFT

I took one of Tara’s drawings from last year and placed it on OpenSea.

Mostly just to see what the experience is like.

So here it is, “A princess, her castle, and an apple tree“.

For more details, these are “the chains it shows up on”.

Tiling managers

Switched to Rectangle on my macbook.

It’s a “tiling window manager”, and I hadn’t used one for over six years now, ever since I stopped using a Linux laptop for personal/office use (I used i3, and xmonad before that, and … I forget what came before that)

This is what its keyboard shortcuts look like (I selected the recommended set, and then disabled a few)

Most of these are Ctrl + Option +…

Other options considered were

  • Magnet (very similar)
  • Amethyst (reminiscent of Linux tiling managers, but, I don’t need that “feel”)

There were various others with configurability that I don’t care about right now.

I just want to snap windows easily, without a lot of pointing-and-clicking.

Mis-placed optimism

The heady promises of the 90s, w.r.t to the internet, and how it would bring greater openness and understanding, came to nothing, and gave us the dystopian social-media-verse we live in today.

But this is less surprising when considering a similar count of optimism, roughly a century ago this year, about radio.

Here is a look back at a NYTimes editorial from 1923, on “wireless telephony“:

Mr. William Dubilier, a “pioneer-expert” in wireless telephony, has said: “By 1950, isolation should be a thing of the past.”

Throughout the world, not only the leading or intellectual classes, but also the individuals of each nation should soon become better acquainted, not only with the mass characteristics, but also with the individual characteristics of other nations; and as mutual comprehension is thus extended, so, too may be more and more propagated the knowledge and the principles which must underlie any permanent system of universal peace

A little robot

Ended up assembling a little robot (“Zivko“) this weekend.

Doesn’t do much, just basic obstacle avoidance and tracking, but looks “cute” enough for my daughter.

Finished product


Intermediate pics

Monthly recap (Nov 2021)

Castle in the sand, waves upon it, footprints … along Ka’anapali beach, Maui

Major update

  • Maui trip
    • left a day later than planned, because of tests that were needed
    • warm sum, yummy food and pool time
  • Tara turned 7!

Minor updates

  • Drove to Haleakala summit
  • Foosball table at home now, heh
  • Some (more?) dental adventures


  • “Helping” Tara with a Harry Potter lego train set
  • Finished reading The lion, the witch and the wardrobe together
  • Watched Godzilla: Singular Point (!)

Generally interesting links – Nov 2021

Neurons in a Jellyfish brain

Science and the world

  • A magic treatment for paralysis?

    • A self-assembling gel injected at the site of spinal cord injuries in paralysed mice has enabled them to walk again after four weeks.
    • The gel mimics the matrix that is normally found around cells, providing a scaffold that helps cells to grow. It also provides signals that stimulate nerve regeneration.
  • New giant Russian spy submarines

  • “How Jellyfish work”

    • By examining the glowing chain reactions occurring in the animals’ neurons as they ate, the team determined that a subnetwork of neurons that produces a particular neuropeptide (a molecule produced by neurons) is responsible for the spatially localized inward folding of the body.
  • Adventures with understanding larval brains
  • Spiders flying on electric currents

    • First, they showed that spiders can detect electric fields. They put the arachnids on vertical strips of cardboard in the center of a plastic box, and then generated electric fields between the floor and ceiling of similar strengths to what the spiders would experience outdoors. These fields ruffled tiny sensory hairs on the spiders’ feet, known as trichobothria. “It’s like when you rub a balloon and hold it up to your hairs,” Morley says.
  • On the behavior of the so-called “demon star”

    • But scientists argue whether tiny variations in the light from Algol could be caused by even more stars orbiting in the system. To answer that, Jetsu applied a new mathematical method to years of recorded data of the light from Algol and revealed regular signals that suggest there may be up to five “companion” stars in the system.

Language, games, media


  • I discovered Ian Graham, who played a very important role in preserving Maya artifacts

    • For anyone who ever wanted to be an archaeologist, Ian Graham could be a hero. This lively memoir chronicles Graham’s career as the “last explorer” and a fierce advocate for the protection and preservation of Maya sites and monuments across Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. It is also full of adventure and high society, for the self-deprecating Graham traveled to remote lands such as Afghanistan in wonderful company. He tells entertaining stories about his encounters with a host of notables beginning with Rudyard Kipling, a family friend from Graham’s childhood.
  • Neolithic folks made clothes from … trees !!

  • How “old” toasters from half a century ago are better than modern ones

  • Lidar continues to reveal interesting stuff in Central America: this time, Olmec sites

  • “The Indiana Jones of low Earth orbit” Space Archaeology 😀

People, culture, society

Computing and software


First bit of computational art

Just a tiny thing right now, but what matters is … it’s quick, relaxing and … yes, fun.

And here’s the (short) notebook that made it.

Advent-of-code 2021

Using Wolfram Mathematica for this is more satisfying than it should be


It was shockingly easy to do all this.

  • REPL/Notebook glory with fast-n-quick editing and modification
  • easy switching between text and code cells
  • easy prototyping
  • easy plotting

I’m sure anything that requires “running systems” would be a bad fit, but most cases where you’d think “I need a real programming language here”, Wolfram Language is more than adequate.

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