February 1940. "Black cat in snow. Ross County, Ohio." Medium format acetate negative by Arthur Rothstein for the Farm Security Administration.
“What we need as a nation, more than anything else I can think of, is a recommitment to basic competence, and, especially, a refusal to accept ideological justifications for plain old ineptitude. Too often Americans give a free pass to bunglers and bozos who belong to their tribe. We have for decades now operated under the assumption that our world will just function perfectly well on its own even if we cease to attend to it. It won’t.” And, also, in the UK.
I actually write READMEs a bit like Sam describes – onwards, never erased, first-person diary accounts of what I'm trying, where I'm typing it, and what happened. But the case for pen is a good one. (Also: I enjoy Sam's writing).
Paul Ford is writing again. It's a joy. And here, he explores Sting's _All This Tiime_, from back when multimedia CD-rom sets by artists were things we wanted to own (and back when David Bowie had an ISP, which I had forgotten).
It sounds _dreadful_
"It now makes absolute sense that this comes from a nation a non-trivial amount of which is below sea level and who’s storied history is in fact chock full of water engineering feats. It stands now to reason that this could only come from the Dutch. Or some kid from Nebraska who just loved water parks as a kid, ended up baked out of his mind on the streets of Amsterdam for nine years until he discovered his long lost passion and talent for making side scroller games. Chances are it was both." Jim is writing about games and it's a delight.
"While there has been plenty of fiction written about pandemics, I think the biggest difference between those scenarios and our reality is how poorly our government has handled it. If your goal is to dramatize the threat posed by an unknown virus, there’s no advantage in depicting the officials responding as incompetent, because that minimizes the threat; it leads the reader to conclude that the virus wouldn’t be dangerous if competent people were on the job. A pandemic story like that would be similar to what’s known as an “idiot plot,” a plot that would be resolved very quickly if your protagonist weren’t an idiot. What we’re living through is only partly a disaster novel; it’s also—and perhaps mostly—a grotesque political satire." Ted Chiang on what stories about change and revolution do (and what _actual_ change and revolution also do).
Great piece of games journalism from Duncan Fyfe: the history and legacy of Mastermind. Wide-ranging, great bits of research. Love it.
"The earliest reference to Bulls and Cows is in the work of Dr. Frank King. In 1968, King was studying for a PhD in electrical engineering at Cambridge University and looking for something to implement on the university's Titan computer, which had recently been equipped with Multics, a time-sharing operating system allowing multiple users to access one computer concurrently and remotely.
Thinking a game would be enjoyable, and something more sophisticated than Tic-Tac-Toe even better, King wrote a version of a childhood puzzle. "Good grief, you've implemented Bulls and Cows," he remembers other students saying, though he called it MOO."
Greatly enjoyed eevee's history of CSS and browser-based code; particularly, I enjoyed the moment where you're following along with things you knew… and then you viscerally go "oh, _here's_ where I began!" I twinged as I remembered where I began, my move away from table-based layout… and then the point where I started battling quirks mode for a living…
"Everything is Someone is a book about objects, technology, humans, and everything in-between. It is composed of seven “future fables” for children and adults, which move from the present into a future in which “being” and “thinking” are activities not only for humans. Absorbing and thought-provoking, this collection explores the point where technology and philosophy meet, seen through the eyes of kids, vacuum cleaners, factories and mountains.
From a man that wants to become a table, to the first vacuum cleaner that bought another vacuum cleaner, all the way to a mountain that became the president of a nation, each story brings the reader into a different perspective, extrapolating how some of the technologies we are developing today, will bur the line between, us, devices, and natural beings too."
Simone has a book out!
23 January 2020
At the end of the course I’ve taught for the past three years, I offer some more general advice for existing-as-a-person to my students (who are studying “Digital Management”, and I am teaching them about technology.
I put up a single slide with the word
which is advice you will have heard from countless Successful Entrepreneurs and Busy Executives, who tell you the importance of books, and then tell you all about these popular cognitive-science books they’ve read, or Books About Business.
I then replace it with this slide:
and usually say something like
Read fiction. I don’t mean “read sf to have ideas about the future.” I mean “read any form of fiction, genre or no”. Fiction allows us to have other ideas, live other lives, see other perspectives. It allows us to escape and re-consider the world from outside ourselves. It allows us to think at lengths and timescales that we may not from day-to-day. It is a shortcut to containing multitudes; to other minds.
I was reading the The Atlantic writing about how they are publishing more fiction, and that put me onto this excellent quotation by Alice Munro. I like it a lot because it conveys to people for whom fiction is a linear thing, a narrative that starts and plot happens and then stops, the other thing that happens when you exist inside fiction, and why you might reread books. I will be using in future:
A story is not like a road to follow … it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time. It also has a sturdy sense of itself of being built out of its own necessity, not just to shelter or beguile you.
(From her introduction to her own Selected Stories, 1996.)
Umberto Eco: on the way imperfect and ramshackle texts build cults, whilst perfection does not. Also, Casablanca and Westerns. And: a brilliant first sentence.
"…in my personal life: to do things without making them a project in themselves. To have some rubbery-ness, greater fluidity, create space for criticism that isn’t going to kill whatever it is I am trying to do. To have more ‘unoptimisable’ time. To be physically engaged and not wrapped and/or rapt in my own head. To be shit at some things. To be present." This is good, from Greg; I ache for some of those feelings.