52 Things [Tom Whitwell] Learned in 2021

“4. 10% of US electricity is generated from old Russian nuclear warheads. [Geoff Brumfiel]

43. Privacy seems to be connected to productivity. An experiment in a phone factory showed that putting curtains round workers on a production line increased output by 10–15%. [Ethan Bernstein via Ethan Mollick]

52. A study of 14,000 Australians over 14 years found that neither being promoted nor being fired has any impact on either emotional wellbeing or life satisfaction. [Nathan Kettlewell & co]”

Tom Whitwell, “52 Things I Learned in 2021.” Fluxx Studio Notes. December 1, 2021.

A Full-Fledged Enemy of Web3

Ethereum should inspire any­one inter­ested in the future(s) of the inter­net, because it demonstrates, pow­er­fully, that new pro­to­cols are still pos­si­ble. I do not think Web3 is a desir­able or even tol­er­a­ble path for­ward for this web right here, but I take its les­son well. “Code wins arguments”, and so do clubs, and cults; time remains to build all three.

-Robin Sloan, “Notes on Web3.” RobinSloan.com. November 2021.

Nice quote there at the end. Code, clubs and cults win arguments. Law, weapons and partisans would probably also work, but it wouldn’t have that nice alliteration.

Starship is Still Not Understood

“Starship matters. It’s not just a really big rocket, like any other rocket on steroids. It’s a continuing and dedicated attempt to achieve the “Holy Grail” of rocketry, a fully and rapidly reusable orbital class rocket that can be mass manufactured. It is intended to enable a conveyor belt logistical capacity to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) comparable to the Berlin Airlift. That is, Starship is a powerful logistical system that puts launch below the API.

Starship is designed to be able to launch bulk cargo into LEO in >100 T chunks for <$10m per launch, and up to thousands of launches per year. By refilling in LEO, a fully loaded deep space Starship can transport >100 T of bulk cargo anywhere in the solar system, including the surface of the Moon or Mars, for <$100m per Starship. Starship is intended to be able to transport a million tonnes of cargo to the surface of Mars in just ten launch windows, in addition to serving other incidental destinations, such as maintaining the Starlink constellation or building a big base at the Lunar south pole.”

-Casey Handmer, “Starship is Still Not Understood.” caseyhandmer.wordpress.com. October 28, 2021.

The Internet of Grift (Non-Fungible Tokens Edition)

“The moment that something has bubbled up to the surface long enough for it to establish real value is the exact moment at which those engineering the system for their profit are planning to exit or have already left. All of the flashy press has likely died down due to the market cap crashing from $1.1 billion to today’s cap of $726 million and $1 million in volume – with a few days this week below $350,000. For context, the top cryptocurrencies have daily volume in the billions or hundreds of millions of dollars. Now the market is flooded with cheaper cards that people can’t recoup value from, with no real market to sell them into. But the guys who got in early got rich, as they always do…

…When you remove the idea that an NFT could forseeably be sold for more money than you paid, what value does it have? What beauty? What does it symbolize? What meaning does it have? And what’s the point of it being unique? It’s not a Rolex, that actually has a quality and heft and look to it, nor is it something you can admire outside of the computer, and even if you don’t care about that, it’s a status symbol of wealth and taste (if you feel that way about expensive watches).”

-Ed Zitron, “The Internet of Grift.” ez.substack.com. October 1, 2021.

It’s interesting because there are people that make this same argument about cryptocurrencies, “They are a solution looking for a problem.” I’d argue that programmable money does have obvious utility in ways that a non-fungible token of art doesn’t. But, it’s a point where reasonable people can disagree.

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.” notebook.drmaciver.com, 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.” samsai.eu. 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.” chimamanda.com. 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?RedHandFiles.com. 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.” krebsonsecurity.com. May 17, 2021.