Hot Pod

January 31st, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Quick plug for Nick Quah’s Hot Pod, an excellent newsletter on podcasts. It has an acknowledged bias towards emotionally-driven, story-based non-fiction podcasts — the archipelago that has formed around This American Life, Radiolab and the like. But even though that’s not really my thing, I’ve found a number of interesting podcasts through it.

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Some entirely unsurprising tech-world sexism

January 31st, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Some entirely unsurprising tech-world sexism

A while back, The Toast published a list of sexist comments aimed inflcited on women working in technology. What I find really sad is how utterly unsurprising this is. If anything, I would have expected it to be even worse: “How did you learn to do all this?!” The ancient Spider-Goddess Llorothaag came to me in a harrowing blood-soaked vision. In exchange for perpetual servitude as her…

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Strange Coin Denominations

January 30th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Belgium has been getting attention for its snub to France, in the form of a €2.5 coin commemorating the battle of Waterloo. It’s a brilliantly snarky piece of coinage. But there are plenty of other odd denomination coins floating around. Portugal already has several €2.50 pieces, though they stick to fairly harmless topics like football. Then there’s Jersey. The island had previously layered its…

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January 29th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

In the early 80s, some 35% of Computer Science students in the US were women. Today, that figure is under 20%. This graph, from NPR’s Planet Money, shows the turning point when women, when gender equality in computer science programmes stopped improving and took a nosedive. Until the mid-80s, female students had been forming an ever-increasing percentage of CS classes, as in other disciplines.…

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Camelot’s sneakiness

January 29th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Camelot’s sneakiness

State-promoted gambling is a grim idea at the best of times. But the UK national lottery is scraping the barrel of dishonest promotion. They’ve just announced some changes. Take a look at that page and see if you can work out what’s going on. The important bit is in the smaller print, under “Other Changes”: More numbers to choose from You will now be able to choose 6 numbers from a total of 59…

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The Talented Mr. Ripley, Snail Smuggler

January 28th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

The Talented Mr. Ripley, Snail Smuggler

…or if not Mr. Ripley himself, at least his creator. Patricia Highsmith, creator of fictional con-man The Talented Mr. Ripley, preferred animals to people. In particular she loved snails. This caused her problems when she moved to France. Aside from the coals to Newcastle aspect, snail trafficking was illegal. This is what dragged the crime author into sins worthy of her characters: When she…

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How to make a Parisian intellectual stop talking

January 27th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

How to make a Parisian intellectual stop talking

I’m reading Jon Ronson’s latest book, a tour of the twitter-fuelled renaissance in public shamings by a self-righteous mob. Along the way there are, as you’d expect from Ronson, some wonderfully bizarre historical excursions. One looks at Gustave le Bon, grandfather of the study of “crowd psychology”. Le Bon was a wannabe intellectul in late 19th-century France who, after his previous works were…

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Nevada, Imogen Binnie (book review)

January 27th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Nevada, Imogen Binnie (book review)

Nevada is a novel that’s psychological in a delightfully straightforward way. No need to reconstruct a character’s psyche from meaningful silences and Freudian cliches. Just swoop in with first-person brain-dumps, stream of consciousness that has been tidied up and wrangled into coherent paragraphs. This does require fairly introspective characters, but we are in a world where oblivious stoicism…

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Machines

January 26th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Alex has an uncanny ability to find things that grab my emotions. Most recently, this poem, about which I can’t say anything other than that I love it: Dearest, note how these two are alike: This harpsichord pavane by Purcell And the racer’s twelve-speed bike. The machinery of grace is always simple. This chrome trapezoid, one wheel connected To another of concentric gears, Which Ptolemy dreamt…

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January 25th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

the narrative of Tristes Tropiques, for example, zaps from culture to culture, continent to continent, as it remaps the entire globe along lines of association: between the layout, concentric or concyclic, of a village’s huts, the transgenerational rhythms of exogamy and endogamy of the tribe to whom these huts belong, and the symmetry or asymmetry of a caste system on the far side of the world). And infused, beyond even this, with a tantalising sense that, if only he could correlate it all, plot the whole system out, some universal “master-meaning” would emerge, bathing both him and his readers in an all-consuming, epiphanic grace.

Potemkin villages for the unemployed

January 25th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Potemkin villages for the unemployed

Potemkin companies staffed by Europe’s unemployed, going through the motions of running a business in the hope they will one day be able to flip from the imaginary to the real economy. These companies are all part of an elaborate training network that effectively operates as a parallel economic universe. For years, the aim was to train students and unemployed workers looking to make a transition…

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Huxley on machine art

January 24th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Huxley on machine art

There were, it is true, certain Cubists who liked to paint machines or to represent human figures as though they were the parts of machines. But a machine, after all, is itself a work of art, much more subtle, much more interesting from a formal point of view, than any representation of a machine can be. In other words, a machine is its own highest artistic expression, and merely loses by being…

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RIP John Ball

January 23rd, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Things cannot go well in England Nor ever will Until every thing shall be held in common Those are the words of John Ball, who on this day in 1381 was hanged for his leadership of the Peasants Revolt. The Peasants Revolt, unlike almost everything else in the 14th century, feels comprehensible. There is one side who are obviously in the right, and there is the dreamy interest of wondering what…

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Cargoes, revised: the declining trade in cigarette holders

January 22nd, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Cargoes, revised: the declining trade in cigarette holders

The World Customs Organization has the unenviable job of trying to categorize everything that is traded across borders. Every few years they update their classification system, adapting to the development of new products and changes in trade patterns. Poignantly, this means the elimination of archaic goods. The list of categories eliminated between 1992 and 2007 is a record of a lost world: cigar…

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Jon Ronson, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed — book review

January 22nd, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Jon Ronson, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed — book review

Jon Ronson has made a career from taking important topics, and finding the ridiculous element within them. It works pretty well for getting us to pay attention to what he has to say — I certainly look forward to reading his books, in a way I wouldn’t for a drier treatment of the same topic. In the past he’s looked at extremists, psycopaths and conspiracy heorists. Now he’s looking at online…

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The establishment endures

January 21st, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

The establishment in Britain shows no signs of dying out. Here is an FT article, written by an Oxbridge-educated man, about how Oxbridge-educated men find themselves in positions of power without really needing to exert themselves or show signs of brilliance: My caste produces the opinions that most British people are expected to swallow. However, the one topic we seldom discuss honestly is our…

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Sharon Stone, Leon Trotsky, and a lobotomy

January 20th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Sharon Stone, Leon Trotsky, and a lobotomy

Recently I realised how far Trotskyism has fallen. Two smart, educated companions failed to associate an ice-pick with Leon Trotsky. Instead, they associated the ice-pick with Basic Instinct. Comrades, not only have Trots been obliterated, but the world has forgotten to associate mountaineering tools with a thousand tasteless Stalinist jokes. Unfortunately, sexy Hollywood homicide isn’t a direct…

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Objects on trial

January 20th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Wikipedia’s article on In Rem Jurisdiction is a thing of beauty. It’s about the situation where the defendant in a court case is an object rather than a person. Some of the case names are poetically bizarre: United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins United States v. Thirty-seven Photographs, one of many obscenity cases prosecuted in this way United States v. Forty Barrels and…

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Some MoD FOI responses

January 19th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Some MoD FOI responses

I’m enough of a FOI nerd to occasionally delve into the collection of released information at What Do They Know. Here are a few that caught my eye from the MoD: Of the UK military trainers in Iraq, none speak Arabic or Kurdish The Minister of Defense can classify civilian aircraft as military. He apparently has not done so; this request would be worth repeating in a few years. Service personnel…

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Manhattan is not burning

January 18th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Manhattan is not burning

Reminiscences of New York in the 70s, and how it came to be that way. Broke, with the Federal government out to destroy it, and where the police were handing out leaflets entitled “Welcome to Fear City“: One consequence of New York’s forty-year transition from junkie to preppy overachiever is that our stereotypes are out of date. Hence the continual problems for location scout Nick Carr —…

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