The Map by Venkatesh Rao

“If only, the argument went, you could discover the exact opposite territory — not literally; that was in the middle of the ocean, but some sort of training-data antonym in latent space — and the exact set of tweaks to make to the training code, the Antimap would emerge at the Antipode, and begin its own inexorable creep towards the Map. And through the ensuing battle of Map and Antimap, the final training epoch would be triggered, leading to the Final Convergence, and heaven on Earth.

It was widely derided as a profoundly stupid religion.

And yet, as the growth of heaven slowed to a crawl, the surreptitious search for hell began.”

-Venkatesh Rao, “The Map.” ribbonfarm.com. May 5, 2022.

Parable of the best possible outcome of a piece of technology, where its limits invariably bring humans to imagine its opposite, a kind of hell.

Online Techno-Polymath Guy

“I was discussing with Sam the “genre,” so to speak, of the Online Techno-Polymath Guy. You know this guy. He (and it’s usually a he) has his own website, probably hand-crafted in Kirby, Github, or WordPress, as well as a well-regarded, personable Twitter presence. 

He keeps track of everything he reads, writes pithy blog posts on esoteric subjects. His personal philosophy is progressive with a futurist bent.  He has worked in a variety of fields, though you are unsure what he actually currently does for a living. He is knowledgeable, authoritative, but eccentric, which you can tell by the fun colors he’s used to design his fun little homepage. 

You can have fun clicking around his carefully maintained archive, witnessing the dynamic interplay of his disparate areas of interest. You can ooh and ahh at his reading lists, his quirky, inventive stances on issues like quantum computing and social media moderation. 

It’s all very inspirational.”

-Allegra Rosenberg, “Fear of the Archive.” tchotchke.substack.com. July 29, 2020.

When I read this, I thought I’d probably met the definition of this archetype for this person. Then, he goes on to say this.

“Better to be inconstant in one’s archiving (or forgo it completely) than to constantly be faced with the dirty dishes, the nauseating, living ‘matter’ of one’s past interests, pasts opinions, past genius lying guilelessly buried under strata of increasing idiocy.”

The weird thing about keeping a daily blog like this one is it is a process and a bit of a discipline. Here it is on Saturday morning, and I’ve nothing on my blog for the day. What do I do?

I have a Wallabag list that I put everything interesting I came across – in newsletters, RSS feeds or from wherever. I just look for something especially interesting or that I’d like to make a short statement about or would like to remember. Curation, and sharing of the things you think are interesting in this moment is a kind of love, a sharing of oneself.

The audience for these blog posts is the future me. It’s capturing a moment, and in some future moment, stumbling across it while looking for something else, I don’t think past me is some brilliant standard I’m no longer living up to. More often than not, I’m looking at the flaws, mostly spelling and formatting mistakes, and correcting them.

You see, future me remembers some of what it was like to be past me. There are wisps of memory of that particular moment, where I wrote something or did something, but much of it gets lost. But, being able to read these bits helps me to remember. Helps me to see how I’ve grown and changed. Whereas without taking the moment to write the post, it would be forever lost, like salt in the ocean.

Memory flavors everything, but it is its own kind of experience. It is always flawed and incomplete, like trying to see ocean salt when you can only taste it.

When I look at this blog, I see a few really good things. But, most of it is very mediocre. But, Sturgeon’s Law reigns everywhere. It doesn’t have to be good. I’m allowed to say dumb things – past, present and future – because I’m a flawed human being. And, every once in awhile, there’s gold in this swill bucket. But, you never get a chance to find it if you don’t stir it on a regular basis.

Lower your standards. No effort is lost of wasted. It’s this kind of dialogue, mostly with ourselves, that makes blogging worthwhile. I recommend it to everyone.

Making Friends [on the Internet]

Summarized:

“[1.] follow people you resonate with.

[2.] engage with bigger accounts, support smaller accounts.

[3.] ask questions, offer suggestions, share learnings.

[4.] pay attention to who keeps popping up.

[5.] use the algorithms to your advantage.

[6.] attend virtual events. participate! 

[7.] attend offline events! Be adventerous.

[8.] send that dm / email / offer to connect.

[9.] if they don’t respond, try again in a few months.

[10.] put your thoughts out there.

-Jonathan Borichevskiy, “Making Friends on the Internet.” jon.bo. May 2, 2022.

Open question: How do you make new friends that will help you move in the direction you want your life to move and be fellow travelers?

The thrust is correct. If you want to make offline friends, you need to orient your online presence to make offline connections. However, there’s a bit of an age-bias. When you are 25 and single, it’s a lot easier to go to meeting on a lark. As you get older, it gets more difficult. You have to arrange a babysitter. There’s also the time to consider. Here’s a rough chart of time and quantities of friends a human brain tends to top out at:

  • 5 intimate friends (+200 hours)
  • 15 close friends (80-100 hours)
  • 50 general friends (40-60 hours)
  • 150 acquaintances (10-20 hours)

The problem, as you get older, is: how do you find those hours to spend with someone? The easiest method is some social institution, such as a church. Over a year, it should be possible to pick up a few friends and acquaintances from a church.

So, the above is how to make an initial connection with someone, and it assumes that you bridge these hours in some way. This is much harder, as you get older. But, perhaps something to think about when you start new chapters of your life.

Everywhere Connected, Yet Unable To Connect

“Just as we need certain things to suck in order for others to register as cool (Beavis and Butthead, 1994, MTV), so too must we experience resistance or difficulty in order to understand the nature and depth of our own desires…

…Frictionless exchange almost always involves an unseen toll. One of the most insidious features of our digital regime is the way in which it mystifies the role of labor in daily economic life…

…Few devices have done more to obscure the efforts of human labor than the smartphone. Fewer still have vacuumed out of our lives as much human interaction as has been lost to our oblong, digital assistants…

…We are everywhere connected, and yet we are unable to connect…

-Gabriel Kahane, “In Defense of Friction.” gabrielkahane.substack.com. April 26, 2022.

Strange little essay in the “you’d be happier without your smartphone” genre. Some real nuggets in it.

I’m thinking of updating my phone. Part of me wants to get a 5G phone, for more speed, presumably the Pixel 6a 5G that is likely to be announced next month. Part of me wants to get a Mudita Pure, which is basically a modern flip-phone with a long battery life. Part of me wants to get a PinePhone, a functioning Linux phone. Part of me thinks I should just keep using the old S5 with LineageOS I bought off eBay for ~$50.

The thing that this essay brings to mind for me is that there’s a lot of parts and different, conflicting wants in that paragraph above. In the end, it really doesn’t matter which phone I use. If you were to review the different devices I have used in my life, did any of them really matter? At the same time, an old S5 with LineageOS is a temperamental phone: slow, a flashing display when it is cold, and other problems.

It makes me think of that Amish story, where the question is whether a tool is both good for the individuals and the communities using it. Does having access to social media through a phone bind us closer to each other? Or, enable connections that wouldn’t happen otherwise? In some cases, it does. But, there are costs too. How many of us are taking a really close look at that ledger?

Becoming a Magician

“One of my heuristics for growth is to seek out the magicians, and find the magic. Often without noticing, your progress in aspects of life or all of it unconsciously becomes linear. You made a certain amount of money last year, so you aim to make some ‘reasonable’ proportion more this year. But you are largely using the same tools to get 2x as you used to get x, and so you end up with diminishing marginal returns as you wring the remaining juice out of the initial strategy. The ‘describe the version of you that seems impossible right now’ trick I described above is largely an attempt to bypass that part of my brain that dismisses the work of magicians as crazy and starts allowing it to make the necessary shifts required to become the kind of magician I am envisioning.

The way to extraordinary growth and changes often involves a fundamental ontological or ‘lens’ shift in how you see the world. Magicians are wearing not just better, but fundamentally differently shaped lenses to the rest of us. And regardless of your skills and experience, it is likely that you are a magician to someone else. As someone who has a well-defined felt sense of how various foods affects their body, and can cook simple, healthy food well, I can seem like a magician to someone lacking a similar mental framework who ricochets between spartan self-denial and uncontrollable junk binges.

Meeting magicians is the first step to becoming one – when you are attempting to learn implicit knowledge that by definition you don’t understand, it is important to have a bunch of examples in front of you to feed your brain’s pattern-recognition systems. This will start to change your worldview without the controlling ‘you’ explicitly approving or denying every new belief or framework. Magicians or their work often seem to have a subconscious glow that I am drawn to, particularly if they use a type of magic that I recognise is on my critical path and thus something I’m currently seeking. Concrete steps I take to find them include asking my most interesting friends to introduce me to their most interesting friends, going down similar rabbit holes with the bibliographies of books that excite me, and generally living in ‘explore’ mode at various points in life, while recognising that not every avenue will lead to a jackpot.”

-“Becoming a magician.” Autotranslucence. March 30, 2018.

I liked this blog piece a lot. It’s kind of a description of the destination of the Helsinki Bus Station Theory.

How-to: Be a Darknet Drug Lord

“[The advice in this article can be adapted to suit the needs of other hidden services, including ones which are legal in your jurisdiction. The threat model in mind is that of a drug market. The tone is that of a grandfather who is always annoyingly right, who can’t help but give a stream-of-consciousness schooling to some whippersnapper about the way the world works. If this article inspires you to go on a crime spree and you get caught, don’t come crying to me about it.]

-nachash@observers.net, “So, you want to be a darknet drug lord…pastebin.com. Unknown date.

The tl;dr of this piece is the notion of parallel construction and that all it takes is one fuck-up for someone with the necessary resources to find you. But, on the other hand, if your threat profile is trying to become a less vulnerable target to criminals, learning what criminals do to avoid law enforcement will put you far ahead of the kinds of people they normally target. Obviously, don’t be a darknet drug lord. There are easier ways to make money.

Collateral Damage: SATCOM Terminals

“My theory is that attackers somehow managed to compromise/spoof the ground station/NOC in charge of those spot beams covering, at least, Ukraine. At a certain time they abused a legitimate control protocol to issue specific commands to the targeted SATCOM terminals, resulting in the claimed permanent damage. That request may involve disabling the transmitter, corrupting the antenna pointing logic, demod, power params…

…Finally, we should bear in mind that, as it has been explained, the KA-SAT infrastructure involves multiple interconnected gateways Earth Stations and a specific number of mappings between beams and gateways. As a result, I would say that probably the Enercon incident, and the disruption that [occurred] in other [E]uropean countries, were just a ‘collateral damage’ derived from attacking the main target: Ukraine.

-Ruben Santamarta, “SATCOM terminals under attack in Europe: a plausible analysis.” reversemode.com. March 7, 2022

I thought this was an interesting example of how a cyber attack has unintended effects and does not necessarily hit the intended target.

Best Movie Review as Satire by Someone’s Brother

Macbeth is Joel Coen’s shittiest movie by several billion light years. If all the elephants in all the world crapped into the same canyon for 100 years, you would still not have a pile of shit half a large as Joel Coen’s dumb-as-a-dog-dick rendering of this classic tale. One can’t watch Macbeth without getting the sense that something is missing; some inspired element that gave Mr. Coen’s earlier work an aura of ebullient genius is absent this time. The wit, verve, and undeniable rugged machismo that characterized the other 18 films in which he happened to be involved are nowhere to be found here. Ultimately, one must conclude that what’s lacking is talent itself.

Consider the very decision to adapt Macbeth. The choice belies deep insecurity; Mr. Coen seems, on some level, to understand that he has the talent God gave a balloon full of piss, and therefore needs to latch onto more talented artists like a lamprey sucking the life out of a majestic blue whale. A less insecure director might have been satisfied with a less esteemed piece of intellectual property, but Mr. Coen glommed onto perhaps the best known play by the world’s most renowned playwright in a move that screams “HELP! THE NO TALENT POLICE ARE RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER! PLEASE, SOMEONE RESCUE ME BEFORE I’M EXPOSED AS A FRAUD WHO SOMEHOW FELL ASS-FIRST INTO A MOVIE CAREER!”

-Ethan Cohen, “Joel Coen’s ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’, Reviewed by Ethan Coen.” imightbewrong.substack.com. January 28, 2022

The enemy is often closer (and funnier) than one thinks.

Timeline of the Human Condition

“Ages: following the big bang 13.8 billion years ago, time passed two-thirds of the way to the present before the formation of the Sun 4.57 billion years ago. Rescaled to a calendar year, starting with the big bang at 00:00:00 on 1 January, the Sun forms on 1 September, the Earth on 2 September, earliest signs of life appear on 13 September, earliest true mammals on 26 December, and humans just 2 hours before year’s end. For a year that starts with the earliest true mammals, the dinosaurs go extinct on 17 August, earliest primates appear on 9 September, and humans at dawn of 25 December. For a year that starts with the earliest humans, our own species appears on 19 November, the first built constructions on 8 December, and agricultural farming begins at midday on 29 December.

C. Patrick Doncaster, “Timeline of the human condition.” https://www.southampton.ac.uk/~cpd/history.html Accessed: January 5, 2022.

Stable Anchors & Financial Dominance

“The less dominant the U.S. economy is, the less the dollar can function as a stable anchor for the global financial system. It was still intact in 2008-10, when a global financial crisis sent capital flooding to the safe haven of U.S. government bonds. But in recent years, people have begun to question whether Bretton Woods 2 is finally on the way out. The share of U.S. dollars in global reserves has been falling for years, and this fall has accelerated since the start of the pandemic.

-Noah Smith, “Crypto and the global financial system.” noahpinion.substack.com. December 14, 2021.

True of the U.S. dollar. True of Bitcoin itself. As the ecosystems of alt-chains are built out, the center of gravity is going to move from Bitcoin and be distributed across a few major blockchains, which will, in turn, be supported by niche chains. The same thing will play out with the U.S. and world economy. It might happen a bit slower if the U.S. government manages to create a digital dollar.

Related:

“The prevailing consensus view has been that bitcoin is a risk asset. It has an inverse relationship with interest rates. When central banks and politicians manipulate interest rates lower, and pump trillions of dollars into the market, bitcoin should go higher…

This inverse relationship is not what we are seeing between bitcoin and Treasury yields though. We are actually seeing the exact opposite. Bitcoin’s price appears to be moving in lockstep with Treasury yields.

So if this short-term trend continues to play out, what would that mean for bitcoin? Again, no one knows for sure. But it would be very interesting if the prevailing consensus view is misplaced and bitcoin would actually benefit from increasing interest rates. That would violate the framework that many people have been viewing the digital currency through…

So why could this idea of bitcoin and yields increasing together potentially be true? Well…one idea is that some people actually deem bitcoin to be their reserve currency. They view cheap capital via low rates as a path to borrowing money and making investments that could earn them more bitcoin. If rates were to rise, risk assets would sell off and these people would go back into their safe haven asset — bitcoin.

This may sound insane to the legacy Wall Street crowd, but there is an increasing number of young people who see the digital currency as that safe haven asset in their portfolio. The entire point of investing in anything outside of bitcoin is to outperform bitcoin and eventually convert back into bitcoin. Obviously, if you’re a good investor than you can pick up more bitcoin. If you’re a bad investor, you end up with less bitcoin. This is the new risk-reward that many young people are evaluating.”

Anthony Pompliano, “Bitcoin Is Moving In Lockstep With Treasury Yields?!” pomp.substack.com. December 20, 2021

We’re about to find out if cryptocurrencies with a max supply can be used as an inflation hedge. I bet they can.