Personal Media Summary- September 2016

The Library of Alexandria

Random reads from September:

  • As a sign of the times, some Democrats are now nostalgic1 for Romney.
  • In the speculative archaeology section, links2 between China and ancient Egypt (specifically, that the former might have come from the latter?!)
  • This one3 is hard to summarize, except to say that if you liked ”Snow Crash”, or slightly older cyberpunk, you’ll like it.
  • NPR presents an evolutionary explanation4 for our (lack of!) grasp on reality
  • This one is in the “plus ca change” section: literary egos5 were just as easily bruised a couple of millennia ago.
  • Something relevant in the media-saturated yet misinformed current age: a fable6 about how the visual dominates the literal.
  • This one7 is a bit long and maybe too self-congratulatory, but it’s about ‘cool’ and ‘uncool’ things, and I would have loved it when I was younger (I think).
  • I love encyclopedias, so I have to share this8 nostalgic look back at the (perfect!) 11th edition of Britannica in 1911.
  • File this in the “cool cultural artifacts from the recent past”: there are apparently giant concrete arrows across America that were once guideposts for the first airmail routes (!)
  • If you liked “Jodorowsky’s Dune”, you might like this9
  • This one belongs in the “news that didn’t make the news” section: the largest ever General Strike10 in history (150 to 180 million workers) took place in India on September 2nd, but … you probably never heard about it.
  • Note to authors: don’t let the criticism of critics bother you, even if it comes from famous authors themselves. Here11 is one such note, from H. G. Wells to James Joyce from 1928 !

Now with regard to this literary experiment of yours. It’s a considerable thing because you are a very considerable man and you have in your crowded composition a mighty genius for expression which has escaped discipline. But I don’t think it gets anywhere. You have turned your back on common men—on their elementary needs and their restricted time and intelligence, and you have elaborated. What is the result? Vast riddles. Your last two works have been more amusing and exciting to write than they will ever be to read. Take me as a typical common reader. Do I get much pleasure from this work? No. Do I feel I am getting something new and illuminating as I do when I read Anrep’s dreadful translation of Pavlov’s badly written book on Conditioned Reflexes? No. So I ask: Who the hell is this Joyce who demands so many waking hours of the few thousand I have still to live for a proper appreciation of his quirks and fancies and flashes of rendering?

  • This one may be boring, or it may be interesting: charting the course of corporate logos12 through the decades, in particular how they all seemed to have lost the text within them!
  • Finally, if you have to read one long-form article this month, let it be this one: Andrew Sullivan laments13 how “… An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me.”

Has our enslavement to dopamine — to the instant hits of validation that come with a well-crafted tweet or Snapchat streak — made us happier? I suspect it has simply made us less unhappy, or rather less aware of our unhappiness, and that our phones are merely new and powerful antidepressants of a non-pharmaceutical variety. In an essay on contemplation, the Christian writer Alan Jacobs recently commended the comedian Louis C.K. for withholding smartphones from his children. On the Conan O’Brien show, C.K. explained why: “You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away,” he said. “Underneath in your life there’s that thing … that forever empty … that knowledge that it’s all for nothing and you’re alone … That’s why we text and drive … because we don’t want to be alone for a second.”

Yep, read it.

Monthly recap: August 2016

mickey mouse

The big highlight of this month, and something that consumed most of our time, was moving into a new place. There are still a lot of little things here and there to take care of (random plumbing problems, a few missing locks, etc), but we’re mostly settled in. I’m going to miss our old neighbors most of all 😦 … but they’ll be our new friends now 🙂

In other news, Tara has graduated to speaking whole sentences now.

Most programmers are still locked into the idea of making a program out of a large pile of tiny files containing pieces of programs. They do not realize that this organization was forced by the fact that machines like the PDP 11 only had 8k of memory and a limit of 4k buffers in the editor. Thus there was a lot of machinery built up, such as overlay linkers, to try to reconstruct the whole program.

Tim Daly, “Clojure In Small Pieces”

The idea of “mostly functional programming” is unfeasible. It is impossible to make imperative programming languages safer by only partially removing implicit side effects. Leaving one kind of effect is often enough to simulate the very effect you just tried to remove. On the other hand, allowing effects to be “forgotten” in a pure language also causes mayhem in its own way.

Unfortunately, there is no golden middle, and we are faced with a classic dichotomy: the curse of the excluded middle, which presents the choice of either (a) trying to tame effects using purity annotations, yet fully embracing the fact that your code is still fundamentally effectful; or (b) fully embracing purity by making all effects explicit in the type system and being pragmatic by introducing nonfunctions such as unsafePerformIO. The examples shown here are meant to convince language designers and developers to jump through the mirror and start looking more seriously at fundamentalist functional programming.

So people came up with a bunch of crap-ass languages that still had the exact same abstractions as the underlying machine: a global memory that you update by issuing statements or instructions, expressions that can be computed by the arithmetic-logic unit, conditional branching and loops, subroutines. Everything you need to be “Turing-complete”, which is equivalent to von Neumann-complete.

Steve Yegge, __Math Every Day"_

An argument can be made that the contemporary mainstream understanding of objects is but a pale shadow of the original idea. Further, it can be argued that the mainstream understanding of objects is, in practice, antithetical to the original intent.

David West, “Object Thinking”