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Current Topic: Miscellaneous

this cosmic dance of bursting decadence and withheld permissions
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:42 am EDT, Jun  4, 2014

David Runciman:

Technology moves faster than politics. When technology escapes from political control, politicians face a choice: do they adapt to the change, or do they insist that it adapts to them?

Tom Mitchell, FT:

That's China for you. One day, it's your favorite neighborhood canteen. The next, it's a pile of rubble.

Robert Kaplan:

Unless Americans can be led back to an understanding of their enlightened self-interest, to see again how their fate is entangled with that of the world, then the prospects for a peaceful twenty-first century in which Americans and American principles can thrive will be bleak.

Mike Tidwell:

What, basically, do we say to our kids in the face of astonishing loss in the natural world? How much of that loss do we even want them to know about, to discover and love, as it changes and exits? What do we owe our kids? What do we owe these places? How do we even talk about all this?

Matthew Power:

Bryant closed his laptop and went out into the yard, tossing a tennis ball to his enormous bounding Japanese mastiff. Fingers of snow extended down through the dark forests of the Bitterroot, and high white contrails in the big sky caught the late-afternoon sunlight. The landscape of western Montana, Bryant observed, bears a striking resemblance to the Hindu Kush of eastern Afghanistan -- a place he's seen only pixelated on a monitor. It was a cognitive dissonance he had often felt flying missions, as he tried to remind himself that the world was just as real when seen in a grainy image as with the naked eye, that despite being filtered through distance and technology, cause and effect still applied. This is the uncanny valley over which our drones circle. We look through them at the world, and ultimately stare back at ourselves.

The Royal Tart Toter, via Maria Bustillos:

This cosmic dance of bursting decadence and withheld permissions twists all our arms collectively. But, if sweetness can win -- and it can -- then I'll still be here tomorrow, to high five you, yesterday, my friend. Peace.


the grand delusion
Topic: Miscellaneous 10:53 pm EDT, Jun  1, 2014

Ben Thompson:

I sometimes fear that the tech industry as a whole learned the wrong lesson from the SOPA debate a few years ago. In that case much of the tech world came together at the last minute to defeat a terrible piece of legislation. It was certainly a great outcome, but I very much wonder how often the last-minute protest card can be played. Wouldn't it be better if we never got to the moment of crisis at all?

David Runciman:

Anyone who thinks that technological innovation driven by market forces alone will solve a problem on the scale of climate change is deluding themselves. Market players aren't willing to take big enough risks to effect the genuinely transformative changes. As yet, climate change hasn't got politically scary enough: there needs to be a greater threat of violence. That's the truly scary thought.

In a world of myriad possibilities, especially for those who have the technical abilities that bring lavish rewards in the private sector, politics looks like a real grind. True, successful politicians get to exercise real power now and then, which must be a thrill. But most politicians are not successful: they labour away, scrabbling for votes, striving for influence, only to find that someone has beaten them to it.

People who think they can pick up politics when they need it often find that when they really need it they don't know where to find it. The professionals run rings round them. The only way to learn how to do politics is to keep on doing it, in good times as well as bad. We need more politics and we need more politicians.

Decius:

There are two reasons that people act: Carrots and Sticks. Lowering the barrier to entry might be a carrot, but the sticks are much more effective and come when the political situation makes it impossible for people to go about their lives without acting.

I'm confident that technology has improved the resources available to people if/when they choose to act. So far they don't need to, largely. Don't wish for times when they do.

Lawrence Lessig:

We still have the power to fix our democracy.

We will, if you help.

Decius:

We're in a bad part of the cycle of human society. You and I are young enough that we'll see the other side of it, but we'll be old men when we do.

John Givings:

Plenty of people are onto the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.


utterly absorbed by the world they've created
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:29 am EDT, May 30, 2014

Maciej Ceglowski:

I've come to believe that a lot of what's wrong with the Internet has to do with memory.

In our elementary schools in America, if we did something particularly heinous, they had a special way of threatening you. They would say: "This is going on your permanent record".

It was pretty scary ... How wonderful it felt when I first realized the permanent record didn't exist. They were bluffing! Nothing I did was going to matter! We were free!

And then when I grew up, I helped build it for real.

Stewart Butterfield:

Look at it hard, and find the things that do not work. Be harsh, in the interest of being excellent.

Hanna Rosin:

Andrew and Jenny, a brother and sister who are 6 and 4, respectively, explore a patch of woods to find the best ferns to make a bed with. Jenny walks around in her knee-high white socks, her braids swinging, looking for the biggest fronds. Her big brother tries to arrange them just so. The sun is shining through the dense trees and the camera stays on the children for a long time. When they are satisfied with their bed, they lie down next to each other. "Don't take any of my ferns," Jenny scolds, and Andrew sticks his tongue out. At this point, I could hear in my head the parent intervening: "Come on, kids, share. There's plenty to go around." But no parents are there; the kids have been out of their sight for several hours now. I teared up while watching the film, and it was only a few days later that I understood why. In all my years as a parent, I have never come upon children who are so inwardly focused, so in tune with each other, so utterly absorbed by the world they've created, and I think that's because in all my years as a parent, I've mostly met children who take it for granted that they are always being watched.


circling
Topic: Miscellaneous 6:38 am EDT, May 27, 2014

Zadie Smith:

Surely there is something to be said for drawing a circle around our attention and remaining within that circle. But how large should this circle be?

Maria Konnikova:

False beliefs, it turns out, have little to do with one's stated political affiliations and far more to do with self-identity: What kind of person am I, and what kind of person do I want to be? All ideologies are similarly affected.

BBC:

A new study has found that a quarter of a century on, red deer on the border between the Czech Republic and old West Germany still do not cross the divide.

After tracking 300 deer, researchers said the animals are intent on maintaining the old boundaries.

One of the scientists involved told the BBC the deer are not ideological, "they are just very conservative in their habits."

Ian Leslie:

Sometimes it's only when a difficulty is removed that we realise what it was doing for us.


it's my party
Topic: Miscellaneous 6:38 am EDT, May 27, 2014

Sarah Kendzior:

People go to college because not going to college carries a penalty. College is a purchased loyalty oath to an imagined employer. College shows you are serious enough about your life to risk ruining it early on.

Mike Lofgren:

Beginning in 1988, every US president has been a graduate of Harvard or Yale. Beginning in 2000, every losing presidential candidate has been a Harvard or Yale graduate, with the exception of John McCain in 2008.

Frank Bruni:

Show me someone whose identity is rooted in where he or she went to college. I'll show you someone you really, really don't want at your Super Bowl party.


the road ahead
Topic: Miscellaneous 6:38 am EDT, May 27, 2014

Jessica Pressler:

Looking around at the newly minted billionaires behind the enjoyable but wholly unnecessary Facebook and WhatsApp, Uber and Nest, the brightest minds of a generation, the high test-scorers and mathematically inclined, have taken the knowledge acquired at our most august institutions and applied themselves to solving increasingly minor First World problems. The marketplace of ideas has become one long late-night infomercial.

Ankit Agrawal, via Tyler Cohen:

China has completed, on average, at least one large dam per day since 1949.

Jamil Anderlini, via Alex Tabarrok:

In just two years, from 2011 to 2012, China produced more cement than the US did in the entire 20th century, according to historical data from the US Geological Survey and China's National Bureau of Statistics.


trust and consequences
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:35 am EDT, May 23, 2014

Peter Hunt Welch:

Not a single living person knows how everything in your five-year-old MacBook actually works.

Quinn Norton:

Your average piece-of-shit Windows desktop is so complex that no one person on Earth really knows what all of it is doing, or how.

Courtney Nash:

We have reached a point in software development where we can no longer understand, see, or control all the component parts, both technical and social/organizational -- they are increasingly complex and distributed. The business of software itself has become a distributed, complex system. How do we develop and manage systems that are too large to understand, too complex to control, and that fail in unpredictable ways?

Tom Whipple:

In a world controlled by algorithms, sometimes the most apparently innocuous of processes can have unintended consequences.

Mike Loukides:

The bottom line is that, in the security game, there's no one to trust. All trust is misplaced, and blind faith in any software provider will end up in misery.

Quinn Norton:

It's hard to explain to regular people how much technology barely works, how much the infrastructure of our lives is held together by the IT equivalent of baling wire.

Computers, and computing, are broken.

Written by people with either no time or no money, most software gets shipped the moment it works well enough to let someone go home and see their family. What we get is mostly terrible.

Scott Rich:

Why is it that modular reuse seems to work so well all of a sudden? ... The average programmer in communities like Node.js or Ruby is comfortable turning to the Lazyweb for building blocks for software. ... a few minutes of searching almost always produces candidate modules to solve a problem ...


tomorrow will be no different
Topic: Miscellaneous 6:13 am EDT, May 20, 2014

Nikil Saval:

The proliferation of apps and gurus promising to help manage even the most basic tasks of simple existence -- the "quantified self" movement does life hacking one better, turning the simple act of breathing or sleeping into something to be measured and refined -- suggests that merely getting through the day has become, for many white-collar professionals, a set of problems to solve and systems to optimize. Being alive is easier, it turns out, if you treat it like a job.

Tom Whipple:

Gatekeeping does not pay for itself.

Dan Hon:

The model becomes the thing being modeled. This is a thing, now. Seeing the world as addressable stacks.

Oliver Burkeman, summarizing the work of Eckhart Tolle:

Interestingness gives the mind something to chew on -- but the best experiences come when you stop chewing.

Lizzie Widdicombe:

Meals provide punctuation to our lives: we're constantly recovering from them, anticipating them, riding the emotional ups and downs of a good or a bad sandwich. With a bottle of Soylent on your desk, time stretches before you, featureless and a little sad.

Ian Bogost:

Another day's work lost to the vapors of reloads, updates, clicks, and comments. Realizing that you are hyperemployed by the cloud, that you are its unpaid intern. Wondering what you'd have accomplished if you had done anything else whatsoever. Knowing that tomorrow will be no different.


someone is winning on the internet
Topic: Miscellaneous 6:13 am EDT, May 20, 2014

Ruth Margalit:

There's a word in Hebrew -- malkosh -- that means "last rain." It's a word that only means something in places like Israel, where there's a clear distinction between winter and the long, dry stretch of summer. It's a word, too, that can only be applied in retrospect. When it's raining, you have no way of knowing that the falling drops would be the last ones of the year. But then time goes by, the clouds clear, and you realize that that rain shower was the one.

Bruce Sterling:

The wolf's not at the door, the wolf's in the living room.

Joseph Stiglitz, via Felix Salmon:

Just because somebody is winning and somebody else is losing doesn't mean that society as a whole is benefiting in any way.

Paul Ganley and Ben Allgrove, via Alexis Madrigal:

It is important to appreciate that the notion that we currently have a "neutral" Internet is simply false.

Ian Bogost:

To fear a "pay to play" Internet because it will be less hospitable to competition and innovation is not just to board a ship that's already sailed, but to prepay your cruise vacation down the river Styx.

So as you proceed with your protests, I wonder if you might also ask, quietly, to yourself even, what new growth might erupt if we let the Internet as we know it burn. Shouldn't we at least ponder the question? Perhaps we'd be better off tolerating the venial regret of having lost something than suffering the mortal regret of enduring it.


the elephants are being shot for you
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:39 pm EDT, Mar 31, 2014

Rosa Brooks:

Sheryl, have you ever stopped to consider that all this "leaning in" is ruining life for the rest of us?

When did we come to believe that crucial national security decisions are best made by people too tired to think straight?

Quinn Norton:

A life is measured in time. The sooner you walk away from a useless fight, the more of it you get to have. In time the net will teach you that you simply can't care about everything that deserves to be cared about.

Rebecca Solnit:

Ivory collectors in China aren't shooting elephants in Africa, but the elephants are being shot for them.

James Wood:

To have a home is to become vulnerable. Not just to the attacks of others, but to our own adventures in alienation.

William Drenttel:

In order to love your work, take vacations.


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