Do The Easy Bits First

“As soon as you’ve done the easy bit, everything around it becomes easier. This is the way we solve the puzzle.

This is also the way we fix the world…

…If I run into a problem I can’t solve yet, or I encounter a subject that’s too hard for me, I go “Huh, interesting”, and save it for later, or leave it to someone better suited to it.

I don’t give up. This is important. I just move on to something else, often something nearby.

I find a problem I can solve, and then I solve it.

And everything else becomes easier.”

—David R. MacIver, “You have to do the easy bits first.”, July 27, 2021.

Strikes me as in the same space as my recent commentary on incrementalism. This is the way, but most problems are not jigsaw or Sudoku puzzles. The temptation with problems without a clear endpoint is to do the minimum necessary.

The Small Internet

“The Small Internet, as I’ve seen people call it, is built on alternative protocols. Previously that meant a protocol called Gopher, which was popular in the 90s but ultimately lost the battle to HTTP. It has, however, maintained a small user-base of hackers and hobbyists who enjoy the technical simplicity and text-oriented nature of Gopher. Recently a new protocol called Gemini was collaboratively designed as a kind of middle ground between the simple Gopher and the more complex HTTP. It aims to better serve certain use-cases that Gopher cannot quite fulfill while still keeping things simple compared to the WWW. For example, Gemini mandates the use of TLS to encrypt traffic between a Gemini server and a client and supports MIME-types, so servers can better instruct clients to deal with different types of files. Generally speaking Gemini and Gopher seem to be co-existing peacefully and many Gopher clients have added support for Gemini as well. It’s also not unusual to link to Gopher content from Gemini sites.

The Small Internet is in some ways similar to the Big Internet we know. It consists of servers, from which people serve documents and files. People host their own journals on it (called “phlogs” on Gopher or “gemlogs/flight journals” on Gemini) similar to how people host blogs on the regular web. There are search engines and content aggregators. Some people even mirror web content on the Small Internet, you can for example read Reddit on an unofficial Gopher mirror.

Where the Small Internet differs is in presentation. Pages are mostly plain-text, you cannot serve scripts to your users and you cannot embed images into pages directly. This means that Small Internet pages tend to be relatively snappy and simple compared to their WWW counterparts. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are ugly, however. ASCII art is frequently used to spice up pages in lieu of style sheets and banner images.”

-samsai, “Introduction to Gemini and the Small Internet.” May 17, 2020.

The Social Obscene

“In certain young people today…I notice what I find increasingly troubling: a cold-blooded grasping, a hunger to take and take and take, but never give; a massive sense of entitlement; an inability to show gratitude; an ease with dishonesty and pretension and selfishness that is couched in the language of self-care; an expectation always to be helped and rewarded no matter whether deserving or not; language that is slick and sleek but with little emotional intelligence; an astonishing level of self-absorption; an unrealistic expectation of puritanism from others; an over-inflated sense of ability, or of talent where there is any at all; an inability to apologize, truly and fully, without justifications; a passionate performance of virtue that is well executed in the public space of Twitter but not in the intimate space of friendship.

I find it obscene.”

-Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “IT IS OBSCENE: A TRUE REFLECTION IN THREE PARTS.” June 15, 2021.

I found this discussion of the “controversy” around this essay pretty interesting. Why did she choose to write this? It seems like setting yourself up for a lot of bother. But, I think the central idea that the incentives of social media tends to do something to people’s perspective – removing nuance of thinking, increasing self-centeredness, etc. is valid. How do you mitigate this problem, for yourself and in relationship with others using these platforms?

Hang In There Until You’re Sixty

“…try to hang in there until you’re sixty. Then you’ll find you don’t have to worry about what people say any more and, as a consequence, life becomes a whole lot more interesting.

Entering your sixties brings with it a warm and fuzzy feeling of freedom through redundancy, through obsolescence, through living outside of the conversation and forever existing on the wrong end of the stick. What a relief it is to be that mad, embarrassing uncle in the corner of the room, a product of his age, with his loopy ideas about free speech and freedom of expression, with his love of beauty, of humour, chaos, provocation and outrage, of conversation and debate, his adoration of art without dogma, his impatience with the morally obvious, his belief in universal compassion, forgiveness and mercy, in nuance and the shadows, in neutrality and in humanity — ah, beautiful humanity — and in God too, who he thanks for letting him, in these dementing times, be old.”

—Nick Cave, “I’m struggling a bit with the fact I’m turning 40 in a week. Some people say “You’re in the brightest part of your life”, others say you are an “old man”. What is your perspective on getting old? June 2021.

Try This One Weird Trick Russian Hackers Hate – Krebs on Security

“In a Twitter discussion last week on ransomware attacks, KrebsOnSecurity noted that virtually all ransomware strains have a built-in failsafe designed to cover the backsides of the malware purveyors: They simply will not install on a Microsoft Windows computer that already has one of many types of virtual keyboards installed — such as Russian or Ukrainian…

Nixon said because of Russia’s unique legal culture, criminal hackers in that country employ these checks to ensure they are only attacking victims outside of the country.

“This is for their legal protection,” Nixon said. “Installing a Cyrillic keyboard, or changing a specific registry entry to say ‘RU’, and so forth, might be enough to convince malware that you are Russian and off limits. This can technically be used as a ‘vaccine’ against Russian malware.”

—Brian Krebs, “Try This One Weird Trick Russian Hackers Hate.” May 17, 2021.

The Iron Law of Institutions

“The Iron Law of Institutions is: the people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution ‘fail’ while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to ‘succeed’ if that requires them to lose power within the institution.

This is true for all human institutions, from elementary schools up to the United States of America. If history shows anything, it’s that this cannot be changed. What can be done, sometimes, is to force the people running institutions to align their own interests with those of the institution itself and its members.”

-Jonathan Schwarz, “Democrats And The Iron Law Of Institutions.” September 5, 2007.

Privacy is For Finding Out Who We Are When We Are Not Performing Ourselves

“Privacy is essential to human agency and dignity. Denying someone privacy—even when it’s as seemingly small as a parent who won’t let their kid close the door—has a corrosive effect, eroding trust as well as our sense of interiority. When we scale up the individual to a body politic, it is the private sphere that’s crucial for our capacity for democracy and self-determination. As individuals, we need privacy to figure out who we are when we’re no longer performing the self. As a collective, we have to be able to distinguish who we are as individuals hidden from the norms and pressures of the group in order to reason clearly about how we want to shape the group. Elections have secret ballots for a reason.

If we do care about privacy as a collective value, then it cannot be an individual burden. Right now, privacy is essentially a luxury good. If you can afford not to use coupons, you don’t have to let retailers track your shopping habits with loyalty points. If you’re technically savvy, you don’t have to let Gmail see all your emails. Not only does that make access to privacy incredibly inequitable, it also affects our collective understanding of what is a ‘normal’ amount of privacy.”

-Jenny, “left alone, together.” May 3, 2021.

Thinking Different About This Rigged Game

040204-N-3122S-004 Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Ariz. (Feb.4, 2004) Ð An aerial image of the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC) located on the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz. AMARC is responsible for the storage and maintaining of aircraft for future redeployment, parts, or proper disposal following retirement by the military. U.S. Navy photo by PhotographerÕs Mate 3rd Class Shannon R. Smith. (RELEASED)

“We should ask ourselves, our communities, and our government: if a business can’t pay a living wage, should it be a business? If it’s too expensive for businesses to provide healthcare for their workers, maybe we need to decouple it from employment? If childcare is a market failure, but we need childcare for the economy to work, how can the government build that infrastructure? If the pay you provide workers doesn’t allow them to live in the community, what needs to change? Collectively, we should be thinking of different funding models, different ownership scenarios, and different growth imperatives. Failure to do so is simply resigning ourselves to another round of this rigged game.”

-Anne Helen Peterson, “The ‘Capitalism is Broken’ Economy.” April 21, 2021.

Might be prudent to also ask about the entire lifecycle of what we are doing. Does the above look normal to you?

Mundia and Modia

“We humans live in two worlds. One world, I call Mundia, is the world of immutable laws, e.g. gravity, electromagnetism, and supply and demand – it is the world that we see when we look out at the natural landscape. The other world, I call Modia, is the world of social relationships, e.g. love, hate, admiration, envy, loyalty, and gratitude – it is the world that we see when we look out at the social landscape.”

—David Boxenhorn, “Mundia and Modia – The two worlds in which we live.” July 15, 2020.

I think this argument is bad, in the same way that some people try to paint social science as not science because it doesn’t match their ideas of rigor. But, I also think the characterization of conservative ideology as being grounded in facts and concrete metrics is obviously wrong, e.g., the whole alt-right nativism of the U.S. and elsewhere is grounded in hierarchy, identity, and emotion—characteristics of Modia, as imagined here.

However, I’m highlighting because I think it serves as an interesting point for critique.

A Drake Equation for Alien Artifacts

“I propose a version of the Drake Equation for Lurkers on near-Earth objects. By using it, one can compare a Search for Extraterrestrial Artifacts (SETA) strategy of exploring for artifacts to the conventional listening-to-stars SETI strategy, which has thus far found no artificial signals of technological origin. In contrast, SETA offers a new perspective, a new opportunity: discovering past and present visits to the near-Earth vicinity by ET space probes.”

—Paul Gilster, “A Drake Equation for Alien Artifacts.” April 20, 2021.

Imagine an alien civilization finding the Voyager space probes a billion years in the future. Over the span of cosmic time, how many other civilizations managed the same? What is the typical civilizational life span of those civilizations capable of doing it?

Then, there is the question of how many would have survived and developed far enough to place probes in nearby stars with environments conducive to life?