29 August 2021
Welcome back to the Week That Was series highlighting things from the interwebs which are interesting, noteworthy and/or probably worth your time.
Articles📝, Tweet(s)📱, Videos🎥, Charts 📈 all fair game with or without attendant commentary.
✏️ Graveyard of Empires
Afghanistan is “easy to march into, hard to march out of.” - Alexander the Great
Afghanistan, Etta Hulme, Political cartoon, 1983
🏦📈 Apple By The Numbers
Whatever might be said about product strategy and management of the ecosystem, the Apple numbers under Tim Cook’s reign have been jaw-dropping in many ways.
👨💻 Good Software = 10 Years
Great essay by legendary software dev Joel Spolsky on just how long it takes to create world class software.
From the essay:
Have a look at this little chart:
This is a chart showing the number of installed seats of the Lotus Notes workgroup software, from the time it was introduced in 1989 through 2000. In fact when Notes 1.0 finally shipped it had been under development for five years. Notice just how dang long it took before Notes was really good enough that people started buying it. Indeed, from the first line of code written in 1984 until the hockey-stick part of the curve where things really started to turn up, about 11 years passed. During this time Ray Ozzie and his crew weren’t drinking piña coladas in St Barts. They were writing code.
He goes onto suggest
Failure to understand the ten-year rule leads to crucial business mistakes.
- Mistake number 1. The Get Big Fast syndrome
- Mistake number 2. the Overhype syndrome
- Mistake number 3. Believing in Internet Time
- Mistake number 4. Running out of upgrade revenues when your software is done
- Mistake number 5. The “We’ll Ship It When It’s Ready” syndrome
- Mistake number 6. Too-frequent upgrades (a.k.a. the Corel Syndrome)
Good software, like wine, takes time.
Intersting graphic 📰from WaPo about integenerational wealth distribution in the world’s largest economy. Not inconsequential.
🕯️📸 Smokes Spores
Smoke is unburned particles of carbon released when the hydrocarbon chain of candle wax breaks down. When the candle is alight, most of the carbon gets burned to carbon dioxide, but some escapes. If you hold a plate above a candle flame, you’ll see the carbon accumulate as a sooty smear.
When the flame goes out, the glowing wick has enough heat left to break up the wax molecules for a while, but not enough to burn the carbon, so you get a trail of smoke until it cools.
📷Macrofying captured this smoke by using an extremely high shutter speed and slow motion.
🎙️ Reality, Dreams, Consciousness
Joscha Bach is a cognitive scientist, AI researcher, and philosopher appearing for the second time on Lex Fridman’s pod. The topics are predictably deep, quirky and enlightening.
- 0:00 - Introduction
- 0:33 - Life is hard
- 2:56 - Consciousness
- 9:42 - What is life?
- 19:51 - Free will
- 33:56 - Simulation
- 36:06 - Base layer of reality
- 51:42 - Boston Dynamics
- 1:00:01 - Engineering consciousness
- 1:10:30 - Suffering
- 1:19:24 - Postmodernism
- 1:23:43 - Psychedelics
- 1:36:57 - GPT-3
- 1:45:40 - GPT-4
- 1:52:05 - OpenAI Codex
- 1:54:20 - Humans vs AI: Who is more dangerous?
- 2:11:04 - Hitler
- 2:16:01 - Autonomous weapon systems
- 2:23:29 - Mark Zuckerberg
- 2:29:04 - Love
- 2:43:18 - Michael Malice and anarchism
- 3:00:15 - Love
- 3:04:23 - Advice for young people
- 3:09:00 - Meaning of life
🎓🗣️ This is Water
From Farnam Street:
David Foster Wallace‘s 2005 commencement speech to the graduating class at Kenyon College, is a timeless trove of wisdom. Wallace hits on our need to manage rather than remove our core hard-wired human instincts.
The speech is powerful and not too long. Worth a listen.
Excerpt: > “Greetings parents and congratulations to Kenyon’s graduating class of 2005. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story thing turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.
🌐Scite.ai is an incredibly useful Chromium-based browser extension you can use to verify virtually any scientific claim on the internet.
This demo briefly shows how
💰 Government Debt
Fukushima stands out pretty starkly in this plot of Japanese energy production between 1914 - 2019. With Nuclear creeping back up I wouldn’t be suprised to see it return to previous levels or higher in the fullness of time even with the advent of other reneweables; just given the energy efficiency and reliability.
The electricity generation by source for different countries is visualised here.
🖱️ Gall’s Law
On the subject of building systems and software development, Ivan Montilla Miralles 📝highlights lessons from Gall’s Law - and the times he ignored it.
Gall’s Law states the following:
A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: a complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a simple system. - John Gall, systems theorist
How one violates Gall’s Law? Examples:
- You define all the system’s requirements and specifications, features, flow charts, documentation, etc., over an unproven concept. Maybe launch an MVP that flops.
- You fail to realize that unproven ideas are hypotheses, instead of solid theory, so you treat all the assumptions you collect from your fantastic idea as truth
- Most of your projected features go unused because you thought these were awesome to have.
It’s a good essay which ultimately comes down to the following
Start simple. Make sure it works. Until next time.
🎙️🧫 The Sociology of The Moment
When Zeynep Tufekci penned 📰a New York Times op-ed at the onset of the pandemic challenging the prevailing public health guidance that ordinary people should not wear masks, she thought it was the end of her public writing career. Instead, 📰it helped provoke the CDC to reverse its guidance a few weeks later, and medical professionals privately thanked her for writing it. While relieved by the reception, she also saw it as a sign of a deeper dysfunction in the scientific establishment: why should she, a programmer and sociologist by training, have been the one to speak out rather than a credentialed expert? And yet realizing her outsider status and academic tenure allowed her to speak more freely than others, she continued writing and has become one of the leading public intellectuals covering the response to COVID-19.
Zeynep joined Tyler to discuss problems with the media and the scientific establishment, what made the lab-leak hypothesis unacceptable to talk about, how her background in sociology was key to getting so many things right about the pandemic, the pitfalls of academic contrarianism, what Max Weber understood about public health crises, the underrated aspects of Kemel Mustapha’s regime, how Game of Thrones interested her as a sociologist (until the final season), what Americans get wrong about Turkey, why internet-fueled movements like the Gezi protests fizzle out, whether Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise in Turkey, how she’d try to persuade a COVID-19 vaccine skeptic, whether public health authorities should ever lie for the greater good, why she thinks America is actually less racist than Europe, how her background as a programmer affects her work as a sociologist, the subject of her next book, and more.
(Recorded July 14, 2021, before the FDA granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine.)
Two of the papers mentioned (by Tyler) in the episode
🦠📊 Road to Recovery
From Visual Capitalist:
COVID-19 has brought the world to a halt—but after months of uncertainty, it seems that the situation is slowly taking a turn for the better. This chart measures the extent to which 41 major economies are reopening, by plotting two metrics for each country: the mobility rate and the COVID-19 recovery rate:
1. Mobility Index This refers to the change in activity around workplaces, subtracting activity around residences, measured as a percentage deviation from the baseline.
2. COVID-19 Recovery Rate The number of recovered cases in a country is measured as the percentage of total cases.
How SpaceX Starship stacks up next to the rockets of the world
🎨👨🚀 Live and Love
Live and Love, Xision Wu, Digital, 2020
💬 Deep Cuts
“With strangers I am wise beyond measure, with friends; a regular human, and with loved ones, a fool” — @Dsylxia
☕ One More Thing
Coffee addiction fueled the Enlightenment. Voltaire drank 72 cups a day, Diderot wrote an encyclopedia on caffeine, and coffee houses across Europe acted as petri dishes for intellectual exploration. As a life-enhancing drug, it’s far superior to alcohol. “Caffeine allows you also to break your ties to the rhythms of the sun,” by “borrowing energy from your future and giving it to you in the present”
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