Aside

2019.5.23

I the past three days, I’ve removed six or seven bags of books from my home, plus a bunch of clothing and other miscellaneous stuff that’s been taking up space (and for which I don’t have any immediate or near-term uses). While I’m sorta sad to see much of it go, I recognize that this feeling is more tied to a sense of accomplishment linked with having read the books or of history linked to when certain things were acquired. I’m also super excited to feel like there’s less clutter — both physical and emotional — which is surrounding me on a daily basis!

The Roundup for April 18-May 20, 2019 Edition

(Contemporary by Christopher Parsons)

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


For the past several months I’ve been trying go determine just what has been going on with my Apple Music smart playlists. Specifically, I have a playlist that is supposed to update with all the songs that I’ve liked over the past 3 months. However, the playlist hasn’t properly been updating…and now I know why. If you ‘love’ a track in iTunes (i.e., on MacOS) then the track is automatically added to your iCloud Music library and then added to my smart playlist. If, however, you ‘love’ a track in the iOS Music application then the same does not happen: you signal to Apple’s machine learning algorithms that you like the song for purposes of Apple creating playlists for you, but the song won’t be added to any smart playlists that you have created for yourself. What’s worse, there’s no way to go back in time and determine all the songs that you’ve liked in the past in the Music application, so that you can’t retroactively add them to your own ‘loved tracks’ playlist.

This is simply absurd: it means that people who exclusively and heavily use Apple Music and expect a baseline feature parity between the music players have to use a non-mobile ‘solution’ in liking music, if we want to have an ongoing record of what we like. I’d think this was a random bug but, apparently, based on the forums I read this has been an ongoing problem for over a year. I’m incredibly disappointed that Apple has chosen to behave this way and struggle to understand why they’ve let this decision stand.

At present, the only ‘solution’ that I can find is to reflexively go and add albums after I’ve listened to them, if I’ve liked any tracks in them; otherwise I need to manually go through the process of adding tracks to a library (which strikes me as too involved a process). To say this is disappointing is a gross understatement.


Inspiring Quotation

Our relationship with food, wholly transformed since the ’60s in ways both heartening and horrifying, has lost touch with a truth none of us can afford to leave behind: Cooking isn’t a luxury; it’s a survival skill.

Great Photography Shots

I’ve been enjoying Om Malik’s photography for a bunch of time now; I think what I’m really appreciating is the grittiness of the images, combined with the (perception of) low resolution/throwback images from the 1960s and 70s. I don’t know that all of the elements he includes are ones that I want to imitate, but I appreciate the distinctive style that he’s developed over the pat few years. Some of the photos, below, are from his May 6, 2019 outing titled “A morning at the Huntington Beach

(Red-y for the games by Om Malik)
(A moment of reflection by Om Malik)
(Untitled by Om Malik)
(I hope I didn’t miss the waves! by Om Malik)

Music I’m Digging

  • Beyoncé – Lemonade // I hadn’t heard this album until it was recently released across all streaming services. While I knew it had received high praise upon release I’d (effectively) dismissed the praise as just what comes with any release from Beyoncé. Having listened to the album several times I’m still stunned with the beauty and rawness of this album. My only regret is that I didn’t listen to it when it was first released.
  • Lizzo – Cuz I Love You // Lizzo’s previous EP was exceptional in that it showcased her incredible vocal range and ability to create a tight series of works. Her new full-length album is no different: it’s the best kind of pop that is possible and is very, very easy to endlessly consume.
  • Marissa Nadler & Stephen Brodsky – Droneflower // This is a very particular kind of album. It is most definitely not something to listen to when in poor spirits; the lyrics and musical accompaniment is almost designed to depress the spirit and lay one low. This is an album that combines the lightness of an ethereal voice with that of harsh and brutal music. It’s definitely one of the most intellectually intriguing albums I’ve listened to this year.
  • The National – I Am Easy to Find // This album is unlike any other that The National has released: it’s far less moody that earlier albums, and the inclusion of significant female vocals means that the album sounds like The National but not actually of the National. I’m still trying to determine if I like the album or not but, either way, it definitely shows that older bands can develop new sounds!

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • HuffPo Followup – One-on-One with Gerald Butts // This is a wide ranging and deep diving interview with the former principal secretary of Justin Trudeau. Butts is, at points, deeply convincing — specifically around whether pressure was placed on the former Attorney General — but otherwise is insightful for how he regards public service, what matters in advancing liberal socio-political (as opposed to political party) values, and the baseline importance of contributing to the public and our shared democracy.
  • Wag the Doug – “Unfortunately, That Tree Can’t Employ Anybody” // This ongoing popup podcast on the Ford government outlines all of the anti-environment and anti-climate elements in the government’s recent budget. It’s bad. But who expects anything less from a Ford?

Good Reads

  • New type of plastic is a recycling dream // It’s pretty amazing that novel chemical formulas may enable use to continue to use plastics, while mitigating their longevity (and enabling us to subsequently re-repurpose the chemicals that form the plastic in the first place). The question or issue, of course, is whether this technology will be adopted or if the costs of shifting to it mean that few companies will retool their entire production line, thus leaving us with the current wasteful technologies despite technical advances in plastics making.
  • Why Don’t You Just // This very short transcript of a talk at a technical conference nicely summarizes some of the annoyances I have when persons with technical/coding backgrounds interject with solutions to social problems. The ways in which the injections take place often (implicitly) devalue the work that has often been put into the problem at hand and, in the process, elevates the technical/coding skills above those associated with the social sciences and humanities.
  • How Erik Prince Used the Rise of Trump to Make an Improbable Comeback // The Intercept has published yet another terrific close on Erik Prince’s exploits and activities, this time with a focus on how he sought to take advantage of his association with Trump associates to advance his own interests. The article is rife with explanations of how Prince is involved in self-dealing and, also, with people who continue to authorize and facilitate his activities despite knowing his past history. It’s not just shocking that Prince is seeking to illegally be involved in private war activities but, also, that wealthy and influential people keep succumbing to his silver tongue.
  • Phishing and Security Keys // Risher, a security engineer at Google, has a terrific and accessible and blunt piece about the importance of security keys and the relative value they offer in contrast to other kinds of password systems. Left unstated is the issue of when people lack their hardware tokens: technologists and engineers have so-focused on making computing convenient that adding in friction is a hard thing to sell to most users, to say nothing of the issues in ensuring that keys work across all platforms and devices. Still, two factor authentication is a good thing and if you’re particularly paranoid then this piece should explain why you should try and opt for a hardware token to sign into your accounts.
  • Conquering The Carolina Reaper Requires Self-Deceit, Milk, And A Lot Of Barf // I haven’t laughed this hard in a while. The author’s description of his own experiences with epically hot peppers, as well as those in the professional food and pepper eating competitions, is an epic (and painful!) but of food journalism.
  • Status meetings are the scourge – Signal v. Noise // While I largely agree that many status meetings are monsterous wastes of time, I remain moderately unconvinced about the efficacy of posting what you’re doing to your colleagues to update them: face time is valuable because you can compel the attention of your team. Should you do so very often? Probably not. But never? I have a hard time envisioning that.
  • There really is something unique about Tennessee whiskey, study finds. // It is amazing just how much research goes into understanding the nature of alcohols, and how this science could revolutionize the qualities of whiskey and other spirits. I remain excited about just what we can learn about aging processes and how this will affect the quality and quantity of products brought to market!
  • Listening to My Neighbors Fight // I found this to be insightful, mostly as a personal essay that clearly unpacks the situation that almost all urban city dwellers experience at some point. This bit of writing, in particular, seemed to perfectly capture the situation that we’re all in at some point: “You can call the police. But you run the risk of wasting their time and mortifying your neighbors. Even worse, you might possibly put your neighbors in danger if the police were to overreact and hurt them. You can also simply ignore the noise and hope it stops. But then there you are, just you in your home, not knowing when a fight is just a fight—another messy part of the social contract that neighbors learn to ignore as a part of life—and when it’s worse. Google neighbors fighting and you’ll find Reddit threads and advice columns full of people trying to decipher the line between ordinary disputes and domestic violence. When does it become my business?, we want to know.”

Cool Things

  • 33 Deserted Places Around the World // This series of abandoned locations are spectacular, and remind us that the Earth will continue on even as our waste and artifacts are long-abandoned by us.

The Roundup for March 6-April 17, 2019 Edition

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


Inspiring Quotation

“How do you know the healing is working?

When you can breathe normally and think calmly during moments that used to make you feel tension. ”

  • Young Pueblo

Great Photography Shots

We’re (finally!) into spring, and so these shots of flowers warmed my heart as the sun was (finally!) starting to warm my skin.

(‘Nature’s perfection!‘ by @di.monheit19)
(‘Happy Birthday Val‘ by Elaine Taylor)
(‘The National Flower of Nicaragua‘ by @the.r.a.b.b.i.t)
(‘Pollinating‘ by @lasina)

Music I’m Digging

  • I listened to a bunch of music throughout March, though only a handful of tracks ended up as new favourite songs.
  • Karen O & Danger Mouse – Lux Prima // This album has been on constant replay for a month; Karen O’s vocals combined with Danger Mouse’s beats are absolutely captivating.
  • The Tea Party – The Edges of Twilight // It’s been years since I’ve listened to the entirely of this album, and when I did I was struck by how novel the sounds were for the mid-90s. Without a doubt this is the best album that The Tea Party released; if you’re into 90s alternative then this is a must-listen.
  • The Chemical Brothers – No Geography // The band pulled out the equipment that they used in the mid-90s to produce this album and does it ever show. The entire album feels like the classic kinds of beats that they produced between the mid-90s to the early-aughts, and that’s a very, very good thing.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • TVO- Debriefing Ontario’s 2019 Budget and TVO – Diving Deep into the 2019 Budget // In the aftermath of the Ontario government’s most recent budget, experts got together to discuss the things that are and are not in the new budget. Significantly, spending for social groups and assistance to disenfranchised persons are significantly down, and while the budget is technically the largest ever produced in Ontario it has grown at a rate below that of inflation. In other words: while there are more pure dollars in this budget the allocation of budget dollars has changed significantly, and the actual value of those dollars has declined. An era of real cuts has begun.
  • The Current – There’s a gender gap in medical data, and it’s costing women their lives, says this author // I was blown away by just how many problems arise because of the gendered ways in which data is(n’t) collected, and how important and lifesaving it is to better account for gender in data collection. Even the way that snow is plowed is gendered, and how it’s done can send disproportionate numbers of women to hospital! I cannot stress how eye opening this particular episode is!
  • Lawfare – James Comey at Verify 2019 // I fundamentally disagree with how Comey articulated certain things, such as what a judicial order to seek content from a secured environment obliges a person to do in enabling such a search. That aside, Comey’s assessment of the broader national security issues and challenges is worth the listen. He’s incredibly smart and articulate, and that’s something that’s sadly lacking in American political debates these days.
  • Lawfare – Michelle Melton on Climate Change as a National Security Threat // Melton’s interview is really, really interesting because it canvasses the arguments for why we should, and should not, want climate change issues to be understood as national security issues. The assessments for why (and why not) to do so are, in part, based on definitions but more significantly pertain to whether we should ‘water down’ national security, whether nationalism is the right way of reflecting on climate change, and more broadly that the core issue might just be the ‘climate realists’ won’t act until its too late regardless of whether we classify climate change as a national security threat.
  • The Sporkful – A Soda Jerk And A Mormon Walk Into A Podcast // Soda is one of those things that I am incredibly careful around; a decade and a half ago, I largely cut it out of my diet and the result was I dropped 10-15 lbs almost overnight. So I respect how delicious it is and, also, how much it can affect the composition of my body. This episode of The Sporkful has me reflecting on whether I should give at least some soda a chance: the flavours discussed in this episode sound magical, and I learned an awful lot about the contemporary carbonation process and why so many sodas are sweet, today, which might not have been in the past.
  • The Current – As Nova Scotia switched to opt-out option for organ donation, expert examines the ethics of government ‘nudging’ // I had, previously, been a pretty big fan of the idea that people are automatically opted-in to organ donation but this episode gave me pause. Specifically, when there is an informed decision the likelihood of a family intervening to prevent a transplant is much lower than when people are just ‘nudged’ to accept and authorize transplants.
  • The Sporkful – Is The Future Of Bourbon Female? // I have a deep and abiding love of bourbon; it’s one of my absolute favourite ‘brown’ spirits. This episode has lots of incredibly useful information and good ways of thinking about why some alcohol is so expensive compared to others, and that ‘old’ is often more expensive by not necessarily preferable to your palettete. The episode also, rather remarkably, gets bourbon distillers to admit that their marketing has historically ignored women and that the reason there is so much innovation in the bourbon space these days is due to the industry recognizing women — a full 50+% of the world’s population — might actually enjoy the drink as well.

Good Reads

  • The Race to Build the World’s Best Bourbon Barrel // Bryson does a terrific job in walking through how bourbon barrels are aged, as well as the things that change with the wood as the aging process unfolds. Certain woods, as an example, have higher tannin contents which befit loner airing periods, and other types of wood close off pores in the wood differently. These kinds of changes, along with how wood for barrels is cut to expose different amounts of wood or char to the alcohol, all affect the ultimate character of the bourbon being made. A great article if distilling and bourbon are things that pure persistently curious about.
  • The Secret History of Fiat Brazil’s Internal Espionage Network and Collaboration With the Military Dictatorship // I’d had no idea just how pervasive the Brazilian dictatorship’s surveillance regime had been, nor the extent to which private companies were complacent and supportive. Cesar’s article unpacks the history of Fiat’s own worker surveillance and, also, how it combined with that of the regime to massively monitor workers within as well as outside of the Fiat factories. In an era where employers seek more awareness of employees’ activities, combined with a diminishment of employee privacy rights, this article is a warning of how things used to be not that long ago and, also, the dangers of where workplace surveillance is various parts of the world is intensifying.
  • A brief history of Wi-Fi security protocols from “oh my, that’s bad” to WPA3 // Salter’s article for Ars Technica is an example of public service writing/journalism. You can clearly understand the trajectory of wifi protocols, why they were replaced at different iterations, and the likely situation that personal routing will be at (from a security standpoint) in the next few days. He’s done a real service to the public, and if you’ve ever wanted to know how and why home internet protocols are updated then this is definitely an article to check out.
  • Can Your Refrigerator Improve Your Dating Life? // This article can only be taken as borderline comedy, though a comedy with some degree of truth to it. I can see how knowing the kinds of habits a potential partner has concerning food would potentially provide useful insights: fresh fruits, nuts, and other raw ingredients? Good (in my eyes). Lots of pre-processed foods and sugary snacks? (Far less good, to me, because I know I need to avoid excesses of those things in my life). The socio-economic assessment that is suggested in the article — that you can figure out who someone is and their likely affluence by looking in their fridge — doesn’t hold weight to me because it presumes an attitude towards cooking and purchasing foods that may be contrasted with reality.
  • Food innovations changed our mouths, which in turn changed our languages // Researchers are exploring whether the way humans pronounce certain words — and changes in pronunciation over time — is linked to the foods that we ate, and how those foods affected the configuration of teeth in our mouths. While it’s still early and ongoing research I think it is so cool that language is adaptive to our cuisine, in addition to other elements such as always seeking the easiest/fastest ways of communicating using verbal means and cues.
  • A Mysterious Infection, Spanning the Globe in a Climate of Secrecy // I understand why artificial intelligence and other major new technological developments provoke interest and concern, especially around how new technologies might prospectively threaten human life. But it seems like far too little attention is being paid to an emerging existential threat: a situation where fungi and bacteria cannot be killed and are capable of spreading widely and easily and quickly. More and more often we find microorganisms that are resistant to everything we can throw at it, and without the benefits of contemporary medicine we won’t need to worry about what AI will do, but whether there are invisible killers lining our walls, clothing, or bathrooms.
  • Why the US still won’t require SS7 fixes that could secure your phone // The SS7 network underpins the global communications infrastructure and remains deeply unsecured, in part due to American trade organizations opposing any and all efforts to improve security standards and regulations. This is another case where profit is being permitted to trump safety and security, the (social) costs be damned.
  • Are You Afraid of Google? BlackBerry Cofounder Jim Balsillie Says You Should Be // While I tend to agree with Balsillie about some of his concerns around data surveillance and the costs it raises to democracy, this fawning profile fundamentally ignores some of his — vis-a-vis BlackBerry’s — failings. Blackberry facilitated mass surveillance in non-democratic regions of the world. It worked with repressive governments to the detriment of free speech and human rights advocates. It’s terrific that he expresses concerns, now, but it’s based on a failure to truthfully engage with the sins of his past. This failure suggests either he doesn’t want to seek atonement or doesn’t think atonement is needed. Either suggestion is deeply problematic.
  • The Pentagon’s Bottomless Money Pit // Taibbi’s article will take you a long time to get through, but’s it’s enormously funny throughout with his dry wit and the comments of auditors of the Pentagon’s books keeping you company through the serious assessment of just how badly managed the Agency’s books are kept. The ultimate assessment of what it will take to fix — namely campaign finance reform — means there’s little hope that the Pentagon will move towards a serious accountancy reform anytime soon, but at the bare minimum the source of the current blight is known…
  • The Global Diversity of French Fry Dips Is a Window Into the Way We Eat Today // I had absolutely no idea there was so much diversity in what could, and is, put on a french fry. I’ve had Belgian fries before and was impressed with the selection of dips available, but now I realize just how many more options there really are to enjoy!

Cool Things

Link

The implausibility of intelligence explosion

The intelligence of the AIs we build today is hyper specialized in extremely narrow tasks — like playing Go, or classifying images into 10,000 known categories. The intelligence of an octopus is specialized in the problem of being an octopus. The intelligence of a human is specialized in the problem of being human.

What would happen if we were to put a freshly-created human brain in the body of an octopus, and let in live at the bottom of the ocean? Would it even learn to use its eight-legged body? Would it survive past a few days? We cannot perform this experiment, but we do know that cognitive development in humans and animals is driven by hardcoded, innate dynamics.

Chollet’s long-form consideration of the ‘intelligence explosion’ is exactly the long, deep dive assessments of artificial intelligence I wish we had more of. In particular, his appreciation for the relationship between ‘intelligence’ and ‘mind’ and ‘socio-situationality’ struck me as meaningful and helpful, insofar as it recognizes the philosophical dimensions of intelligence that is often disregarded, forgotten about, or simply not appreciated by those who talk generally about strong AI systems.

The Roundup for February 16-March 4, 2019 Edition

Families by Christopher Parsons

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


Inspiring Quotation

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right —for you’ll be criticized anyway.”

  • Eleanor Roosevelt

Great Photography Shots

Winnie Au’s photographs of dogs in sculptural comes of shame are just amazing and hilarious.

Music I’m Digging

  • Daniil Trifonov – NPR Tiny Desk Concert // Trifonov’s performance is just spectacular, and his Chopin is amongst the best I’ve ever experienced. The nuance of his playing cannot be overstated; his technical mastery lets him truly express the emotions behind each of the with which pieces he engages.
  • Kehlani – While We Wait // I’ve been listening to this a lot over the past few weeks; Kehlani’s R&B and soul vibes make for both pleasant background listening as well as concentrated, full attention, listening. Her track with 6LACK, in particular, strikes me as a solid contribution to her emerging body of work.
  • Run the Jewels’Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 2, and Run the Jewels 3 // I’ve had these albums on near-constant replay over the course of the past two and a half weeks. I really appreciate the aesthetic of the beats that El-P lays down and his general MC skills, especially as combined with Killer Mike’s lyrics. It feels like they’ve taken the best of New York circa the mid-90s or early 2000s and Atlanta circa the mid-2000s to today. Almost every track has a special bit of resonance and, on the whole, the cohesiveness of all their albums to date is really exceptional.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • TVO – The World’s Shrinking Problem // This is a counter-intuitive assessment of the state of the world’s population. Whereas popular thought holds that the world is running out of space, Darrel Bricker and John Ibbitson’s new book Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline suggests that average birth rates are significantly declining to under 2.1 children per women in numbers well populated areas of the world (e.g. China, India, etc). The result: immigration is critical to maintain populations, and especially youthful populations, if a consumer-based economy is going to continue.
  • TVO – The Asian world Order is Coming // With Asian populations increasingly coming into their own, as they become more truly self-governing states as opposed to driven substantively by colonialists their decisions on who to trade with, how to approach basic rights, and baseline conceptions of equality will increasingly follow from self-determined positions as opposed to those imposed by others. There are more people living in Asian democracies than in any other part of the world and trade between Asian countries is increasingly interregional. As such, a genuine reorientation of the world blocs may be taking place and to the effect of seeing Asian nations coming (back) into their own after approximately 500 years of colonial influence and rule.
  • Lawfare – Marie Harf and Bill Harlow on CIA Public Relations // In this long form interview with former members of the CIA’s public relations team, Daniel Priess unpacks what the role of the team is, how they interact with other members of the Agency, and the reasons for which the relations team tries to correct the record. What I found most interesting was that the press team was not designed to create positive spin for the CIA but, instead, to make news that comes out less negative. Close observers of the CIA might dispute this position — there is a history of the CIA, especially over the past decade or so, attempting to influence American public opinion vis-a-vis who gets access to people in the CIA to develop movies and TV shows — but nonetheless this was an interesting podcast that while presenting information about the public relations team was also, without a doubt, an effort to influence minds about how the CIA itself operates.
  • The Axe Files – Claire McCaskill // McCaskill was a Democratic Senator who lost her seat in the last election. This interview with her is helpful and productive in thinking through how the Senate works, changes in USA politics over the past twelve years, and the things that primarily drive Mitch McConnell, the current Senate majority leader.
  • The Documentary – Japan’s Elderly Crime Wave // The issues of loneliness, shame, and insufficient welfare state mechanisms along with a generally healthy society are all leading to a heightened number of elderly persons in Japanese prisons. This episode of The Documentary dives into the problem and speaks directly to those who are incarcerated to better understand why they’re imprisoned, whether they see a life for themselves that is permanently outside of prison, and how a Japanese culture of shame is leading to elder members of families being permanently exiled from their closest social connections.

Good Reads

  • Love and Limerence // A long assessment of what’s it’s like to experience infatuation towards another, this review of limerence — “an involuntary interpersonal state that involves an acute longing for emotional reciprocation, obsessive-compulsive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and emotional dependence on another person” — functions as a diagnostic utility as well as a way of mapping likely outcomes when there is a variance between expressions or perceptions of limerence. The review of the term, and Studs Terkel’s associated book, are underscored by hundreds of pages of first hand accounts of feeling enthralled by another person, with the components of limerence breaking down to, first, a sign of hope that the person might reciprocate and, second, uncertainty. However, the perceptions that a limerent person has towards their limerence object is as much a projection of their own illusions as anything else; that which is perceived is unlikely to be representative of the actual other person.
  • Shopping in Pyongyang, and Other Adventures in North Korean Capitalism // The development of the North Korean economy, and specifically the acceptance and integration of open markets throughout the country, bely the perception of the country as a fully controlled socialist system. Of particular note is the rise of bosses who collect rents from persons selling in markets. This emerging upper-merchant class is unlikely to seek political power and work to open North Korea’s borders and gain access to foreign markets. Instead, these merchants principally seek to maintain the existing political system because it protects them from external competition; instead, this group of merchants are likely to instead seek to obtain and leverage political power to keep the state’s attentions fixed elsewhere. In effect, these are scions of political conservatism as opposed to leaders for liberal political reform.
  • Don’t buy a 5G smartphone—at least, not for a while // Ars Technica’s Ron Amadeo has a terrific, and concise, summarization of what 5G technologies entail in 2018/19 and why the hype over the technology likely won’t meet reality in the near future. Specifically, the characteristics of the radio frequency utilized in 5G communications combined with the increased size of chips used (and associated radios) mean that not only will early-generation 5G-compatible phones be significantly more expensive, they will likely also have worsened battery lives. It’s based on details like this that I genuinely believe we won’t see real 5G penetration for at least 5 years, barring a significant revolution in how and why the newly utilized spectrum is taken advantage of by innovative technologies and systems.
  • How Run the Jewels Became Hip-Hop’s Most Intense Truth-Tellers // While Weiner’s article came out several years ago, it continues to provide a solid background to where Run the Jewels emerged from, the variances in attitudes and politics of El-P and Killer Mike, and what happened (and why) when they teamed up. Further, it’s noteworthy that their music is as much ‘consciousness rap’ as it is about asserting their status in the hip hop community and delving into their sometimes difficult pasts.
  • Modern Love – How Bibliophiles Flirt // There is so much to appreciate in this story about presentation of self, and becoming who one desires to be (or sees oneself as), as well as the blossoming of love that culminates with a return to fun game which was played a year earlier.
  • A basic question about TCP // This is about the best explanation of TCP/IP that I’ve ever come across. Graham has littered the typically technical explanations with a large volume of examples so that even the most technically unsophisticated reader should walk away with a pretty good grasp of the protocol, its difficulties, and the problems associated with ‘smart’ networks.
  • Strep A bacteria kill half a million a year. Why don’t we have a vaccine? / I’d had no idea just how dangerous Strep A could be or that repeated cases of it can lead to serious health issues. impressively, there has been an uptick in efforts to develop a vaccine against most types of Strep, with tests appearing promising. Hopefully a vaccine can be developed…and we can then convince or coerce people to get vaccinated.

Cool Things

  • UCCA Dune // Without a doubt, this is perhaps the single most beautiful contemporary art gallery — from an architectural perspective — that I’ve seen in a very long time. The interior shots of it are organic and sensuous and communicate an openness to the world whilst simultaneously behaving as a protective shell for inner contemplation.
  • Animating Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars™ Battlefront™ / The way in which the designers attribute psychological properties to Skywalker based on how he used his lightsaber prior to his turn to the dark side is pretty incredible, and speaks to the thoughtfulness that goes into many games associated with the Star Wars universe.

China’s Second Continent


Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Howard W. French’s book is, functionally, a travel log of his most recent tour of Africa where he asks the baseline question, “what, exactly, is happening with Chinese investment and emigration to African states?” He takes the reader across the continent and recounts his experiences, today, versus when he was professionally in the region in past decades. It’s this background experience — which enables him to conduct before/after assessments — combined with his experiences in both the populous and more rural areas of China, along with linguistic fluency, that makes the book as compelling as it is.

The actual findings of the book are pretty common across all cases: Chinese efforts to shore up mineral and vegetative resources are, widely, disliked by the public. This dislike follows from Chinese companies predominantly bringing in skilled labourers from China and minimally employing locals, and while also rarely providing sufficient training so that locals can take on more advanced tasks. Moreover, in many of the cases French recounts the Chinese companies are massively either underpaying locals or, in contrast, engaged in bidding practices that result in poor quality infrastructures being developed and which are often obtained in part through bribery or corrupt dealings.

Many of the Chinese persons who are interviewed in the course of the book hold, frankly, colonial values. They regard African employees as lazy, and uneducated, and as unwilling to adequately develop. And, similarly, Chinese companies and government consular staff are engaged in systematic efforts to, on the one hand, establish control of important resources that will enable China to prosper while, on the other, stripping Africa of its resources at a scale that could only be dreamed by Western colonial powers in the decades and centuries past.

The repetition that emerges through the chapters ultimately makes the book a tad boring to read, especially towards the end, notwithstanding French’s efforts to inject local colour and humour throughout the book. However, it is that very repetitiveness that makes the book as striking as it is: Africa has become a space where China’s transactionalist foreign policy means that Chinese companies can thrive while aggressively stripping resources from Africa whilst the country itself avoids projects focused on developing democratic norms, rule of law, or other governance systems. These latter activities, often associated with American and Western aid projects, are set aside by and large by China and, as a result, the supposed ‘progress’ of African states will only come if the states’ governance structures change on their own, and in the face of exceptional bribes and other corrupt business practices. I remain dubious that a Chinese-facilitated model of “development,” which largely entails economic activities and exclusionary approaches to engaging in broader governance activities, will do any more for Africa than the French, British, and Belgians did when they focused their attentions on Africa.

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If anything, what [Bytes, Bombs and Spies] points out is how little value you can get from traditional political-science terms and concepts. Escalatory ladder makes little sense with a domain where a half-decade of battlefield preparation and pre-placement are required for attacks, where attacks have a more nebulous connection to effect, deniability is a dominant characteristic, and where intelligence gathering and kinetic effect require the same access and where emergent behavior during offensive operations happens far beyond human reaction time.