Social media without an audience

The view from inside an ice cave, looking out at a starry night sky.

What I appreciate about Drew Austin’s writing is how concisely he can string together important points. Go and read the three long paragraphs of this post, which I’ve summarised out of order below.

My understanding is that Austin is saying that our mental model of social media is out of kilter with the current reality. We’re pretending that the current landscape is in any way similar to that of a decade ago.

[A] 2021 essay, The Brazilianization of the World by Alex Hochuli, describes how “the fate of being modern but not modern enough now seems to be shared by large parts of the world: WhatsApp and favelas, e-commerce and open sewers.” As a small cohort of venal elites separates itself, physically and socially, from the much larger and poorer population in which it’s embedded, it creates an idea of interior and exterior existence. The Twitch streamer with no audience anticipates life on the outside, in the dead public space of a Brazilianized, enclave-gated internet, a ground that shifted under our feet with little warning, turning us into street buskers playing music we didn’t realize no one could hear.


Talking to no one is the near future of social media, the digital equivalent of warming your hands over an oil drum bonfire in an abandoned city—what you do when you missed the last bus out of town and have to loiter as comfortably as possible in the ruins. We may have once imagined that social media would ultimately end by imploding suddenly, releasing us from the last day of school into a summer of the real, but no such catharsis is coming. When institutions die now, they rarely give us the closure of ceasing to exist—they live on in zombie form, and we learn to tolerate the gradually worsening conditions they impose. We stick around Twitter because we need to for professional reasons, we may tell ourselves, but the real job is just scavenging copper wires from the wreckage.

Source: Kneeling Bus

Image: Patrick Busslinger

How not to mince about like a little weasel

Russ Cook running in Africa

It would be remiss of me not to mark the extraordinary achievement of Russell “Hardest Geezer” Cook, who has run the entire length of Africa. This interactive map not only charts the daily progress he made, but links to his social media accounts.

My favourite part of the story, which backs up his nickname, comes when he had scans due to persistent back pain. Finding no bone damage, he concluded that “the only option left was to stop mincing about like a little weasel, get the strongest painkillers available and zombie stomp road again”.


The 27-year-old from Worthing, West Sussex, said he had struggled with his mental health, gambling and drinking, and wanted to “make a difference”.

After running through 16 countries, he has raised in excess of £700,000 for charity and has completed his final run.

As he crossed the finish line at about 16:40 BST in Ras Angela, Tunisia, Mr Cook was greeted by a shouting crowd, with many chanting “geezer”.

“I’m pretty tired,” he told reporters and in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Source: BBC News

Tearing your anger into strips

Self-reported anger during Experiment 1 (left) and Experiment 2 (right). Significant differences emerged at the end of time due to experimental manipulations. Possible values for anger range from 1 to 6. Each vertical line illustrates the 95% confidence intervals for each group.

A new paper in Nature suggests that writing down your feelings of anger and then disposing of the piece of paper can rid yourself of the angry feelings. Interestingly, or tellingly, the paper starts by talking about parental anger and the importance of demonstrating emotional self-regulation.

I’ve done something similar in terms of emotional processing with my own kids. For example, when my son was around four years old, the bird hide in the park behind our house was set on fire deliberately. An act of arson. He was inconsolable, and had nightmares. I got him to draw a picture of what had happened and to use it to talk about what happened, which seemed to be cathartic.

Anger suppression is important in our daily life, as its failure can sometimes lead to the breaking down of relationships in families. Thus, effective strategies to suppress or neutralise anger have been examined. This study shows that physical disposal of a piece of paper containing one’s written thoughts on the cause of a provocative event neutralises anger, while holding the paper did not. In this study, participants wrote brief opinions about social problems and received a handwritten, insulting comment consisting of low evaluations about their composition from a confederate. Then, the participants wrote the cause and their thoughts about the provocative event. Half of the participants (disposal group) disposed of the paper in the trash can (Experiment 1) or in the shredder (Experiment 2), while the other half (retention group) kept it in a file on the desk. All the participants showed an increased subjective rating of anger after receiving the insulting feedback. However, the subjective anger for the disposal group decreased as low as the baseline period, while that of the retention group was still higher than that in the baseline period in both experiments. We propose this method as a powerful and simple way to eliminate anger.

Source: Nature

If you're going to go, you might as well go... weirdly?

Illustration of the death of Aeschylus in the 15th century Florentine Picture Chronicle by Maso Finiguerra. Original is in the British Museum.

I stumbled across a Wikipedia page entitled ‘List of unusual deaths’. I was only going to share three of them, but there are so many bizarre ones on there that I couldn’t help sharing more.

Sigurd the Mighty of Orkney (892 CE): The second Earl of Orkney strapped the head of his defeated foe Máel Brigte to his horse’s saddle. Brigte’s teeth rubbed against Sigurd’s leg as he rode, causing a fatal infection, according to the Old Norse Heimskringla and Orkneyinga sagas.

Hans Staininger (1567): The burgomaster of Braunau (then Bavaria, now Austria), died when he broke his neck by tripping over his own beard. The beard, which was 4.5 feet (1.4 m) long at the time, was usually kept rolled up in a leather pouch.

Thomas Otway (1685): The English dramatist fell on hard times and was suffering from poverty in his later years, and was driven by starvation to beg for food. A gentleman who recognized him gave him a guinea, with which he hastened to a baker’s shop, purchased a roll, and choked to death on the first mouthful.

John Cummings (1809): After seeing a circus knife-swallower, seaman John Cummings began actually swallowing knives. On one occasion, he swallowed four knives, and quickly passed three with no ill-health. He later swallowed 14 knives, and after some days with abdominal pain, he passed all of them. He finally swallowed 20 knives and a clasp knife case, but after a few days, he had only passed the case; he died after four years in pain. On autopsy, a knife blade and spring were found in his intestines, and between 30 and 40 fragments of metal, wood, and horn in his stomach.

Mathilda of Austria (1867): The daughter of Archduke Albrecht, Duke of Teschen set her dress on fire while trying to hide a cigarette from her father, who had forbidden her to smoke.

Sir William Payne-Gallwey, 2nd Baronet (1881): The former British MP died after sustaining severe internal injuries when he fell on a turnip while hunting.

Thornton Jones (1924): The lawyer from Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales, woke up to find that he had his throat slit. Motioning for a paper and pencil, he wrote, “I dreamt that I had done it. I awoke to find it true”, and died 80 minutes later. He had done it himself while unconscious. An inquest at Bangor delivered a verdict of “suicide while temporarily insane”.

Isadora Duncan (1927): The American dancer broke her neck in Nice, France when her long scarf became entangled in the open-spoked wheel and rear axle of the Amilcar CGSS automobile in which she was riding.

David Grundman (1982): While shooting at cacti with his shotgun near Lake Pleasant Regional Park, Arizona, he was crushed when a 4-foot (1.2 m) limb detached and fell on him.

Vladimir Likhonos (2009): The 25-year-old student of Kyiv Polytechnic Institute from Konotop was killed when his chewing gum exploded. He had a habit of dipping his chewing gum in citric acid to increase the gum’s sour taste. On his work table police found about 100 grams (3.5 oz) of unidentified explosive powder which he used for chemistry studies at home. It resembled citric acid, and it is thought that he confused the two, having accidentally coated his gum in the explosive powder before chewing it. The explosive was found to be four times stronger than TNT, and the explosion was possibly triggered either by reacting with Likhonos’s saliva, or the pressure exerted by him chewing on the gum and explosive powder.

Ilda Vitor Maciel (2012): The 88-year old died in a hospital in Barra Mansa, Rio de Janeiro, allegedly as a result of nursing technicians injecting soup through her intravenous drip instead of her feeding tube.

Sam Ballard (2018): The 29-year old from Sydney, Australia, died from angiostrongyliasis after eating a garden slug as a dare eight years earlier.

Shivdayal Sharma (2023): The 82-year-old was reportedly urinating next to a train track in the region of Alwar, India, when a cow was hit by the Vande Bharat express train. The animal was launched 100 feet (30 m) into the air before landing on Sharma, killing him instantly.

Source: Wikipedia

Image: The death of Aeschylus, killed by a turtle dropped onto his head by a falcon

A pharmacology of digital tools

A silhouette of a person taking a photo of a city skyline against a vibrant red sunset reflected in the water.

This article in Aeon is the first time I’ve come across the French philosopher Bernard Stiegler who owned a jazz club which was shut down for illegal prostitution, and developed his philosophy of ‘technics’ while in prison for armed robbery.

Stiegler saw technics as the foundation of human existence, influencing our future possibilities and our sense of being. His view was that acknowledging the role of technology is essential to understand our reality and imagine alternative futures. He believed that while technology has the potential to standardise and limit our experiences, it also offers the ability to reshape human identity and cultural practices positively.

One to explore further, especially in terms of his idea of a pharmacology of digital tools.

In the late 20th century, Stiegler began applying [his ideas] to new media technologies, such as television, which led to the development of a concept he called pharmacology – an idea that suggests we don’t simply ‘use’ our digital tools. Instead, they enter and pharmacologically change us, like medicinal drugs. Today, we can take this analogy even further. The internet presents us with a massive archive of formatted, readily accessible information. Sites such as Wikipedia contain terabytes of knowledge, accumulated and passed down over millennia. At the same time, this exchange of unprecedented amounts of information enables the dissemination of an unprecedented amount of misinformation, conspiracy theories, and other harmful content. The digital is both a poison and a cure, as Derrida would say.

This kind of polyvalence led Stiegler to think more deliberately about technics rather than technology. For Stiegler, there are inherent risks in thinking in terms of the latter: the more ubiquitous that digital technologies become in our lives, the easier it is to forget that these tools are social products that have been constructed by our fellow humans. How we consume music, the paths we take to get from point A to point B, how we share ourselves with others, all of these aspects of daily life have been reshaped by new technologies and the humans that produce them. Yet we rarely stop to reflect on what this means for us. Stiegler believed this act of forgetting creates a deep crisis for all facets of human experience. By forgetting, we lose our all-important capacity to imagine alternative ways of living. The future appears limited, even predetermined, by new technology.


The pharmacology of technics, for Stiegler, presents opportunities for positive or negative relationships with tools. ‘But where the danger lies,’ writes the poet Friedrich Hölderlin in a quote Stiegler often turned to, ‘also grows the saving power.’ While Derrida focuses on the ability of the written word to subvert the sovereignty of the individual subject, Stiegler widens this understanding of pharmacology to include a variety of media and technologies. Not just writing, but factories, server farms and even psychotropic drugs possess the pharmacological capacity to poison or cure our world and, crucially, our understanding of it. Technological development can destroy our sense of ourselves as rational, coherent subjects, leading to widespread suffering and destruction. But tools can also provide us with a new sense of what it means to be human, leading to new modes of expression and cultural practices.


Technical innovations are never without political and social implications for Stiegler. The phonograph, for example, may have standardised classical musical performances after its invention in the late 1800s, but it also contributed to the development of jazz, a genre that was popular among musicians who were barred from accessing the elite world of classical music. Thanks to the gramophone, Black musicians such as the pianist and composer Duke Ellington were able to learn their instruments by ear, without first learning to read musical notation. The phonograph’s industrialisation of musical performance paradoxically led to the free-flowing improvisation of jazz performers.

Source: [Aeon](…

Disinformation is free

An illustration of two large, stylized cats in the foreground overlooking a dense, futuristic cityscape bathed in shades of red and blue.

This is an interesting post by Ian Betteridge, mainly because of the point he makes at the end about disinformation leading to a retreat behind paywalls. I think it’s inevitable that any open/social space without a governance model that specifically focuses on high-quality moderation (rather than increasing ‘shareholder value’) will have problems.

The answer is retreating to people we know and trust, but this doesn’t have to be in dark forests. We can use decentralised moderation models such as Bluesky and others are developing. My main concern is that we reach peak disinformation during an important election year before these mitigating technologies come to fruition.

“Grey goo” was a concept which emerged when nanotechnology was the hot new thing. First put forward by Eric Drexler in his 1986 book The Engines of Creation, this is the idea that self-replicating nanobots could go out of control and consume all the resources on Earth, turning everything into a grey mass of nanomachines.

Few people worry about a nanotech apocalypse now, but arguably we should be worried about AI having a very similar effect on the internet.


It is obvious that anywhere content can be created will ultimately be flooded with AI-generated words and pictures. And the pace of this could accelerate over the coming years, as the tools to use LLMs programmatically become more complex.


This is the AI Grey Goo scenario: an internet choked with low-quality content, which never improves, where it is almost impossible to locate public reliable sources for information because the tools we have been able to rely on in the past – Google, social media – can never keep up with the scale of new content being created. Where the volume of content created overwhelms human or algorithmic abilities to sift through it quickly and find high-quality stuff.


With reliable information locked behind paywalls, anyone unwilling or unable to pay will be faced with picking through a rubbish heap of disinformation, scams, and low-quality nonsense.

In 2022, talking about the retreat behind paywalls, Jeff Jarvis asked “when disinformation is free, how can we restrict quality information to the privileged who choose to afford it?” If the AI-driven information grey goo scenario comes to pass, things would be much, much worse.

Source: [Ian Betteridge](…

Slouchers rejoice!

Flowers with more or less drooping heads

My maternal grandmother was so paranoid about having a poor posture that she put a bamboo pole behind her back, and rested her wrists over the top of each side. The idea was to keep a straight back into old age. She did well to worry, as her sister, my Great Aunt, had osteoporosis. Of course, no amount of posture-correcting exercise is going to help you if your bones start crumbling.

This article in TIME is interesting in that it problematising the history of the posture-correcting ‘industry’ (for want of a better term). TL;DR: there’s no single, correct posture. Thank goodness for that.

By the mid 20th century, poor posture came to be seen as the culprit for rising rates of low back pain, even though little hard evidence existed to prove such claims of causality. President John F. Kennedy, who had repeated back surgeries and chronic pain, hired his own personal posture guru, Hans Kraus, a man who would go on to create one of the most well-known posture and fitness tests administered to hundreds of thousands public school children throughout the Cold War. It was in this cultural and political context of containment that uprightness became a symbol of patriotism, heterosexual propriety, and individualist strength, all virtues believed to be needed in order to defeat the threat of communism.


On the face of it, posture improvement campaigns may seem rather innocuous. What is the harm, after all, of engaging in posture exercise programs? Of buying chairs, shoes, and devices that help to encourage it?

On an individual level, it is entirely possible that an enhanced sense of wellness can come from taking up yoga or purchasing an ergonomic chair. But when looking at the long history of posture improvement campaigns from an historical and structural standpoint, it becomes evident how value-laden they are, and how they can perpetuate sexism, ableism, and racism.


A recent study published by physical therapists working in Qatar, Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom speaks to the urgent need of the profession to dispel the medicalized myth that poor posture leads to bad health. “People come in different shapes and sizes,” they write, “with natural variation in spinal curvatures.”

In short, there is no single, correct posture. Nor does posture correction necessarily ensure future health. Maybe it’s ok to slouch from time to time, after all.

Source: TIME

'Neom' is the sound of contractors being laid off

Part of the proposed Neom development

About 15 years ago, local residents where we used to live conned into backing (or at least not opposing) wind turbines being installed close to a residential area. The marketing materials included details of a proposed five-star hotel and golf course, which the developers said would help with tourism. Only the wind turbines were built, the developer “going bust” afterwards. I couldn’t stand the noise of the turbines, and it’s one of the reasons we moved.

It seems a similar kind of bait-and-switch is happening with the much-hyped Neom project in Saudi Arabia, a plan which I thought looked pretty dystopian in the launch video. I may be cynical, but perhaps they never intended to built it all? Perhaps it was meant to deflect attention away from their petro-checmical ambitions, sportswashing, and human rights abuses? It is a huge surprise to me that they built the luxury tourist destination part first. Huge.

Saudi Arabia has scaled back its medium-term ambitions for the desert development of Neom, the biggest project within Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plans for diversifying the oil-dependent economy, according to people familiar with the matter.

By 2030, the government at one point hoped to have 1.5 million residents living in The Line, a sprawling, futuristic city it plans to contain within a pair of mirror-clad skyscrapers. Now, officials expect the development will house fewer than 300,000 residents by that time, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Officials have long said The Line would be built in stages and they expect it to ultimately cover a 170-kilometer stretch of desert along the coast. With the latest pullback, though, officials expect to have just 2.4 kilometers of the project completed by 2030, the person familiar with the matter said, who asked not to be named discussing non-public information.

Source: Bloomberg

A tiny oasis of life, surrounded by an immensity of death

A family looking at an 'AI Nature Simulator' screen while the real environment outside the simulator is barren and desolate.

This cartoon is exactly the scenario I’m concerned about happening to the planet we call home. I’m going to juxtapose it with a quotation from William Shatner, the actor best known for his role in Star Trek and who finally got to go to space in 2021

Last year, at the age of 90, I had a life-changing experience. I went to space, after decades of playing a science-fiction character who was exploring the universe and building connections with many diverse life forms and cultures. I thought I would experience a similar feeling: a feeling of deep connection with the immensity around us, a deep call for endless exploration. A call to indeed boldly go where no one had gone before.

I was absolutely wrong. As I explained in my latest book, what I felt was totally different. I knew that many before me had experienced a greater sense of care while contemplating our planet from above, because they were struck by the apparent fragility of this suspended blue marble. I felt that too. But the strongest feeling, dominating everything else by far, was the deepest grief that I had ever experienced.

While I was looking away from Earth, and turned towards the rest of the universe, I didn’t feel connection; I didn’t feel attraction. What I understood, in the clearest possible way, was that we were living on a tiny oasis of life, surrounded by an immensity of death. I didn’t see infinite possibilities of worlds to explore, of adventures to have, or living creatures to connect with. I saw the deepest darkness I could have ever imagined, contrasting starkly with the welcoming warmth of our nurturing home planet.

This was an immensely powerful awakening for me. It filled me with sadness. I realised that we had spent decades, if not centuries, being obsessed with looking away, with looking outside. I played my part in popularising the idea that space was the final frontier. But I had to get to space to understand that Earth is, and will remain, our only home. And that we have been ravaging it, relentlessly, making it uninhabitable.

Image: Tjeerd Royaards

Text: The Guardian

Itano Circus

Gif showing Itano Circus animation style

I can’t remember where I came across it, but I’ve bookmarked both a YouTube video and the Wikipedia article for the signature style of Japanese animator Ichirō Itano.

Not only is it awesome in its own right, I think I’m correct in saying that the person who mentioned it was using it as a metaphor for attacking something from multiple angles. Which is also fantastic.

Itano is best known among anime fans for a style of action scene that he developed, usually nicknamed “Itano Circus” (板野サーカス, Itano sākasu) or “Macross missile massacre” by fans; it refers to a highly stylized and acrobatic method of depicting aerial combat and dogfights in many anime, particularly the Macross series.

The battle scenes of the conventional mecha animation took the style of “duel” using guns and swords such as Western (genre) and Jidaigeki and there were many staging which emphasized the heaviness and posing (decision pose) of the robot. A good example of this is sword fight in battle scenes such as Gundam. He created new scenes with the acrobatic moves.

Source: Ichirō Itano

Gif from video: “It’s The Circus”

Football fan hierarchy

Football (soccer) net

It remains a source of frustration to me that my kids support Liverpool. They’ve never been to a home game, and (I suspect) only chose them because they’re a good team in the Premier League, my wife being born there gave them an excuse, and my team (Sunderland) were doing terribly during their early years.

Of course, you can support whatever football team you like. But, as my mate Adam bangs on about all of the time, big money in football has corrupted the game.

[T]here are two concurrent developments taking place here. The first is the gradual realignment of fan hierarchy along the lines of one’s ability to pay: a development years in the making but now reaching a kind of tipping point amid rising prices and declining living standards. In his typically empathic and erudite way, Postecoglou was countering an argument that didn’t really exist. Nobody is discussing restricting access to foreign fans, who have always been able to rock up and buy a ticket. But in romanticising the devotion of the wealthy, amid price hikes that have enraged longstanding Spurs fans, Postecoglou offered up a justification that Daniel Levy and the corporate press office could scarcely have scripted more perfectly.

The other is the gradual erosion of the big club fanbase as a place of congregation and common ground. Broadening a fanbase also weakens it, weakens the ties that bind fans to each other, weakens their inclination to unite and organise. The mass of (mostly domestic-based) Manchester United fans resisting the sale of their club to a Qatari bidder were met by an equal and opposite wave of (mostly foreign-based) fans backing the Qatari bid. Meanwhile, how can we expect Chelsea fans to resist a future Super League if they can no longer even agree on whether Armando Broja is any good?

Source: The Guardian

Image: travis jones

De-bogging yourself

A wooden boardwalk meanders through a wetland with tall grasses, sporadic small trees, and patches of open water. The landscape is bathed in warm sunlight, suggesting early morning or late afternoon. In the background, a denser group of trees is visible against a partly cloudy sky.

I’ll not do this often, and I obviously encourage you to read the original article, but here’s a GPT-4 summary of a fantastic post by Adam Mastroianni from the start of the year.

His topic is getting yourself out of a situation where you’re stuck, which he calls “de-bogging yourself”. I love the way he breaks it down into three different kinds of ‘bog phenomena’ and gives names to examples which fall into those categories.

Insufficient Activation Energy: Describes a lack of motivation to change, encompassing scenarios such as taking on unwanted projects (gutterballing), waiting for a perfect solution (waiting for jackpot), avoiding necessary actions out of fear (declining the dragon), and remaining in mediocre situations due to a lack of motivation to change (the mediocrity trap). Additionally, it covers obsessing over problems without seeking solutions (stroking the problem).

Bad Escape Plans: Details flawed strategies for change, including the belief that mere effort without direction will lead to improvement (the “try harder” fallacy), unrealistic expectations of future effort (the infinite effort illusion), blaming external factors (blaming God), misunderstanding the nature of problems (diploma vs. toothbrushing problems), expecting personal transformation without basis (fantastical metamorphosis), and attempting to control others' actions (puppeteering).

A Bog of One’s Own: Explores self-imposed psychological barriers to progress, such as overvaluing insignificant details (obsessing over tiny predictors) and holding unrealistic views of personal and others' problems (personal problems growth ray). It also discusses the detrimental effects of constant worry over external issues (super surveillance) and refusal to accept simple solutions (hedgehogging), culminating in the belief that personal satisfaction is unattainable (impossible satisfaction).

Source: Experimental History

Image: Maksim Shutov

The New York Times is a gaming platform

Chart showing gaming increasingly more popular than news in NYT apps

Via Garbage Day, this chart shows that The New York Times is more of a gaming platform than a news platform, in terms of time spent by visitors to their apps.

Remember when they bought Wordle? That was right at the end of January 2022 and here we are a couple of years later with games being a major driver of eyeballs on news sites.

This is inevitable, I guess, given that the majority of people get their news via headlines on social media, and that news sites increasingly have paywalls or login-gates. Still interesting though.

I am very excited about this chart because, as I wrote last month, The New York Times is a tech platform now, but, specifically, they’re a gaming platform. Which I always suspected would be the Next Big Thing in digital media and I’ve been desperate for example of how it would work.

You can track stages of internet development by the evolution of the web portal. And the biggest publishers tend to operate downstream and also mimic those portals. In the read-only age of AOL and Yahoo, you had static news sites. In the search and social age of Facebook and Google, you had aggregation and viral media. And the new age coming into focus right now is almost certainly led by interactive entertainment platforms. Entire ecosystems built around videos and games. And, like it or not, the next Pop Crave will be inside of Fortnite or, possibly, own their own version of it.

Source: Garbage Day


An engraving of Borobudur based on original drawings — Unknown (c. 19th century). Public Domain.

M.E. Rothwell’s Cosmographia is a frequent delight, and his latest missive really hits my sweet spot: an unknown history, a huge structure, and a bit of a mystery. I encourage you to go and read the whole thing, or at least just look at the wonderful illustrations.

Borobudur is the largest and most elaborate Buddhist temple in the entire world. Yet its origins remain a mystery.

The temple lies in central Java, Indonesia, surrounded by thick jungle and a ring of mountains. It’s suspected its construction, amid an area with no traces of any other ancient buildings, palaces, or cities, may have been begun by the Shailendra and/or Sanjaya dynasties of 8th century Java. It’s estimated one million stones, each weighing 100kg each, were mined from a nearby riverbed in order to build the stupa, which contains 504 statues of the Buddha and almost 3000 carved stone reliefs.

No one quite knows why such a vast Buddhist edifice was built in a primarily Hindu area, some 5000km away from the centre of Buddhist thought. It’s not even known what precise function it served. The sophisticated civilisation that birthed it went into a sudden and mysterious decline within a century of the temple’s completion in the mid-9th century.


[T]he temple was ‘rediscovered’ by the man with the most British name of all time — Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles. As Governor General of the Dutch East Indies between 1811 and 1816, Raffles took great interest in the history of the island. After he heard about the existence of a huge monument deep in the jungle, he dispatched Dutch engineer Hermann Cornelius to investigate. It took his team two months to cut back the undergrowth to reveal the extent of the huge temple complex.

Source: Cosmographia


Swimming pool lanes and steps

I might pay for Noah Smith’s publication if it weren’t on Substack. While it’s a shame that I may never see the bit beyond the paywall of this article, there’s enough in the bit I can enough read to be thought-provoking.

He riffs off a Twitter thread by Mark Allan Bovair who points to 2015 when lots of people started to be extremely online. This changed society greatly because we started understanding the world through a political lens, both online and offline. (Although there isn’t really an ‘offline’ any more with smartphones in our pockets and wearables on our wrists.)

We like to think that our worldviews are based on facts, but they’re much more likely to be based on emotion. Given the increasingly-short social media-fueled news cycles, our tendency to favour images and video over text, and our willingness to share things that fit with our existing worldview, I think we’re in a lot of trouble, actually.

(I’d also point out in passing that the moral panic around teenagers and smartphones whipped up by commenters such as Jonathan Haidt says more about parents than it does about their kids)

Those equating this to events or technology are missing the point. There was a shift around 2015 where the “online” world spilled over into the real world and the way we view/treat each other changed.

After 2015 things in everyday life started to go through the political lens. We started to bucket people and behaviors along the political spectrum, which was largely an online behavior pre-2015. We started judging everyone as left or right, or we walked on eggshells to avoid it.

Before that, you knew your neighbor was Republican or Democrat based on their lawn signs, but it had little bearing on your daily interactions or behaviors. And it only seemed to matter every four years for a few months. Now it’s constant and pervasive.

And pre-2015 we had phones and social media, but there was more of a boundary, and most people would “log off” most of the day. The dopamine addiction, heightened by the polarization, was much lower. Only fringe message board and twitter posters spent their days arguing online, now it’s everywhere, and there’s no real boundary.

Source: Noahpinion

Eudaimonic exercise

Woman lifting weights

Audrey Watters discusses “the yips,” a term for “a form of dissociative freeze” which is bound up with trauma and can lead to performance anxiety and failure.

I have nowhere near the level of trauma that Audrey has had in her life, but I certainly recognise the use of exercise and competition (with others / with self) as a way of not addressing certain things. For example, I’ve had some kind of virus over the last few days which has made me feel weak. I was desperate to get back to the gym.

Even without the personal grief, trauma, and baggage we carry around as we age, the pandemic means that we have a lot of collective issues to process. Exercise seems benign because it doesn’t seem destructive like, for example, drug use. But anything can be an addictive behaviour — and, as Aristotle pointed out, eudaimonia does not sit at an extreme.

I can troubleshoot what went wrong at the gym on Wednesday. I can troubleshoot why I’m having trouble getting back to the pace and distance I was running before my “accident.” I have a whole list of physiological reasons why the barbell’s not moving, why my legs are moving. My age. My training. My knee. My glutes. My diet. My sleep.

But I’m starting to recognize – really recognize – some significant psychological reasons too. My trauma. My trauma. My trauma. Not just my fall, but all the trauma that I’ve experienced in the last few years, last few decades. I’ve funneled a lot of my hopes for “mental health” into the rhythms of exercise and movement, and it’s an incredibly fragile routine.

There are times when I know my body loves it. And there are times when my brain certainly does too. But there are other times, particularly when I get the yips (which, for the record don’t always look like failing at a deadlift; it can be something that happens all the time, like failing to lean forward as I run) that I’m starting to recognize now are bound up in fear and shame.

I don’t think any amount of “tracking” or “optimization” with gadgets is going to address this issue. For me or for others. Indeed, what if we’re just making things worse?

Source: Second Breakfast

Origami unicorn

Photo of origami unicorn by Jo Nakashima

Erin Kissane wrote a long essay about Threads and the Fediverse. It’s worth a read in its own right, but the thing that really stood out to me for some reason was a random-ish link to instructions for making an origami unicorn.

There is zero chance of me ever making this, but I’m passing it on in case you’re less bad at this kind of thing. For me, it’s not the folding that I find difficult, it’s the rotational 3D stuff. I even find it difficult putting the duvet cover on the right way round (much to my wife’s amusement/dismay).

This model was first designed in 2014, but this is an updated version with some “bug fixes” (legs are properly locked) and a color changed horn.

Source: Jo Nakashima

The best antidote for the tendency to caricature one’s opponent

Daniel Dennett sitting in the woods, cleaning his glasses

Daniel Dennett is a philosopher who I enjoyed reading an undergraduate studying towards a Philosophy degree. I don’t think I’ve read him since, although his book Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking is on my list of books I’d like to read.

Maria Popova has extracted four rules which Dennett cites in Intuition Pumps which originally come from game theorist Anatol Rapoport. Sounds like good advice to me, especially in this fractured, fragmented world.

How to compose a successful critical commentary:

  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”

  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).

  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.

  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

Source: The Marginalian

Image: Daniel Dennett (via The New Yorker)

Endlessly clever

Yellow side of a solved Rubik's cube on a yellow background

Ethan Marcotte takes a phrase used in passing by a friend and applies it to his own career. He makes a good point.

(I noticed that Marcotte’s logo resembles the Firefox imagery that was used while I was at Mozilla. I typed that organisation and his name into a search engine and serendipitiously discovered With Great Tech Comes Great Responsibility, which I don’t think I’ve seen before?)

As tech workers, we’re expected to constantly adapt — to be, well, endlessly clever. We’re asked to learn the latest framework, the newest design tool, the latest research methodology. Our tools keep getting updated, processes become more complex, and the simple act of just doing work seems to get redefined overnight.

And crucially, we’re not the ones who get to redefine how we work. Most recently, our industry’s relentless investment in “artificial intelligence” means that every time a new Devin or Firefly or Sora announces itself, the rest of us have to ask how we’ll adapt this time.

Dunno. Maybe it’s time we step out of that negotiation cycle, and start deciding what we want our work to look like.

Source: Ethan Marcotte

Image: Daniele Franchi

When should you replace running shoes?

Photograph of back half of a running shoe showing midsole

John Sutton knows more about this area than I do. Not only his he an ultramarathon runner but he works in the area of ‘carbon literacy’ and sustainability. I’m also sure that he’s correct that the claims that you need to replace your running shoes after a certain number of miles is driven by marketing departments.

Still, I’ve definitely experienced creeping lower-back pain when getting to around 650 miles in a pair of running shoes. Of course, now I’m wondering whether it’s all psychosomatic…

With age and high mileage, it is said that the midsole no longer provides the cushioning that you need to prevent injury. This is cited as the main reason that shoes need replacing on a regular basis. Again, looking at the Lightboost midsole on these shoes, I see no evidence of crushing or squashing and I certainly don’t think I can feel any difference to the foot strike than when they were new. Obviously, any change in perceived cushioning is likely to be imperceptibly gradual and I could only really confirm that the cushioning was no longer up to snuff by comparing them directly with a new pair. These shoes are at a premium price (£170) and as such, I would expect them to be made of premium materials and built to last. My visual inspection of them suggests that they are still in excellent condition.

On the face of it, I see no obvious reason why I should retire these Ultraboost Lights any time soon. However, that seems to go against industry recommendations. What if invisible midsole damage has been so gradual that I haven’t noticed it? Now that I’ve reached 500 miles, am I likely to injure myself through continued usage? As a triathlete, I know from years of bitter experience that I am far more likely to injure myself on a run than I am cycling or swimming. So, anything I can do to improve my chances of not getting injured would be a powerful incentive to act. Thus, if it could be proven scientifically that buying a new pair of trainers every 300 – 500 miles would lessen my chances of injury, then I would take that evidence very seriously indeed.


In a previous blog post I discussed the carbon footprint of a pair of running shoes (usually between 8kg and 16kg of CO2 per pair). In the great scheme of things, this is not a huge figure (until you scale up to the billions pairs of trainers sold each year and the realisation that virtually all of these are destined for landfill at end of life). My Ultraboosts have a significant content made from ocean plastic and recycled plastic which reduces their carbon footprint by 10% compared to the previous model made with non-recycled materials. 10% is better than nothing, and the use of some ocean plastic is much better than taking plastic bottles out of the recycling loop and spinning them into polyester. But, I can do a lot better than 10% by not swapping my shoes for a new pair until they are properly worn out. Simply by deciding to double the mileage and aiming for at least 1000 miles out of these shoes (hopefully more) I can at least halve the carbon footprint of my running shoe consumption.

Source: Irontwit