You are what you read

A piece of textured white paper with rough edges taped onto a soft peach background.

Jim Neilsen uses a Ralph Waldo Emerson quotation as a jumping-off point to discuss something important:

I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.

To me, all of those people with super-intricate systems, whether for academic work, pleasure, or something inbetween are faintly ridiculous. The point isn’t to replicate a machine and remember everything you’ve ever read.

Neilsen writes:

It’s a good reminder to be mindful of my content diet — you are what you eat read, even if you don’t always remember it.

For me, I bookmark a bunch of stuff that I never get to reading properly. Some of it ends up here on Thought Shrapnel in a way that I can process and search through at a later date. The added bonus is that you, dear reader, also get to see it too.

Source: Jim Neilsen’s Blog

Image: Olga Thelavart

Book reading and secondary orality

A stylized illustration of an open book made to look like an open laptop, surrounded by several closed books and a pen, all set against a vibrant red background.

This is a bit of a strange ramble-post which largely rehashes the discussion/debate we’ve been having for over 15 years about the qualitative difference between reading on screens versus reading on paper. The difference is that there is the added layer of moral panic about people reading fewer books.

What is rarely included in this kind of thing is that we are emerging from what Walter Ong called the Gutenberg Parenthesis, a time in which the written word dominated. That wasn’t true before the printing press, and it’s unlikely to be true going forward given the preponderance of new media. This post-Gutenberg phase is known as ‘secondary orality’ as it depends upon literate culture.

I will always prefer the written word, mainly because it’s more information dense than video and audio content. But there’s room for everything without endless hand-wringing.

The e-reading apps have their merits. At times, they become respites from the other, more addictive apps on my phone. Switching to a book from, say, Twitter, is like the phone-scroller’s version of a nice hike—the senses reorient themselves, and you feel more alert and vigorous, because you’ve spent six to eight minutes going from seven to eleven per cent of Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon.” Or you might feel a sense of pride because you’ve reached the sixty-per-cent mark in Elton John’s autobiography, “Me,” which isn’t a great work of literature but at least is better than Twitter. The book apps also seem to work as a stopgap for children, who are always lusting after screen time of any sort. My seven-year-old daughter has read hundreds of books on the Libby app, which lets you check out e-books from public libraries you belong to. As a parent, I find this wildly preferable to hearing the din of yet another stupid YouTube short or “Is it Cake?” episode coming through her iPad’s speakers.

Still, the arrival of these technologies has been accompanied by a steady decline in the number of books that get read in any form. A pair of 1999 Gallup polls, for example, found that Americans, on average, had read 18.5 books in the course of the previous twelve months. (It should be noted that these were books people had read, or said they had read, “either all or part of the way through.”) By 2021, the number had fallen to 12.6. In 2023, a National Endowment for the Arts survey found that the share of American adults who read novels or short stories had declined from 45.2 per cent in 2012 to 37.6 per cent in 2022, a record low. There are plenty of theories about why this is happening, involving broad finger-pointing toward the Internet or the ongoing influence of television, or even shifting labor conditions, as more women have entered the workforce.

Source: The New Yorker

Optimising for the wrong things

A creative workspace with watercolor paintings featuring yellow and green floral motifs, paint cubes, brushes, and earphones on a rustic wooden table. Amongst these items are a potted plant, a bouquet of yellow wildflowers, and a pair of sunglasses, all suggesting an artist's break in progress.

Solid advice here.

You aren’t famous. Anything you do or create will probably receive little to no attention, so stop optimizing for a non-existent audience and instead focus on what makes you enjoy the activity.

[…]

The most egregious thing you can do with any activity is daydream about how you can make money off of it. That’s the quickest way to optimize for the wrong things and suck the fun right out of it. Most likely you will stop doing the activity almost immediately, so save the money-making schemes for work.

In the end, find something you enjoy doing and just do it because you enjoy it. If you have to, make some goals for yourself, but never for your “audience”.

Source: Ash Newman

Image: Elena Mozhvilo

There's only so much lemonade you can make when life is firing lemons at you

I just had to post this image, which I discovered via the Fediverse. It’s definitely a riposte to all of those people who say that people who have been underserved and marginalised by a biased system should “try harder,” “be more resilient,” or “show more grit”.

A person sitting at a table making lemonade with a manual juicer, surrounded by piles of lemons and filled bottles. Above, a showerhead pours more lemons onto the overwhelmed individual and the table, exaggerating the phrase "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Artist: Will Santino.

Real-time deepfake videos for fun and exploitation

Montage of phone in front of someone's face and ring light in background

This is a PSA to be careful out there: deepfakes have come to regular, real-time video calls. People are getting scammed.

The Yahoo Boys have been experimenting with deepfake video clips for around two years and shifted to more real-time deepfake video calls over the last year, says David Maimon, a professor at Georgia State University and the head of fraud insights at identity verification firm SentiLink. Maimon has monitored the Yahoo Boys on Telegram for more than four years and shared dozens of videos with WIRED revealing how the scammers are using deepfakes.

[…]

The Yahoo Boys’ live deepfake calls run in two different ways. In the first, shown above, the scammers use a setup of two phones and a face-swapping app. The scammer holds the phone they are calling their victim with—they’re mostly seen using Zoom, Maimon says, but it can work on any platform—and uses its rear camera to record the screen of a second phone. This second phone has its camera pointing at the scammer’s face and is running a face-swapping app. They often place the two phones on stands to ensure they don’t move and use ring lights to improve conditions for a real-time face-swap, the videos show.

The second common tactic… uses a laptop instead of a phone. (WIRED has blurred real faces in both videos.) Here, the scammer uses a webcam to capture their face and software running on the laptop changes their appearance. Videos of the setup show scammers are able to see their own face alongside the altered deepfake, with just the manipulated image being displayed over the live video call.

[…]

Some of the Yahoo Boy videos are unbelievable, obvious fakes, while others appear plausible. When they’re viewed live, on a mobile phone, with unstable connections, any obvious flaws may be masked—especially if a scammer has spent months social-engineering their victim.

[…]

Ronnie Tokazowski, the chief fraud fighter at Intelligence for Good, which works with cybercrime victims, says because the Yahoo Boys have used deepfakes for romance scams, they’ll pivot to using the technology for their other scams. “This is kind of an early warning where it’s like: ‘OK, they’re really good at doing these things. Now, what’s the next thing they’re going to do?’”

Source: WIRED

It's not sick note culture, it's systemic failure in governance

Chart showing number of people waiting for treatment in the UK. Number have risten sharply over the last decade or so.

This is, as you’d expect, a restrained article from the BBC. But it still flies in the face of the government’s talk of a ‘sick note culture’ in the UK. Instead, as anyone lives here will attest, it’s the financial crisis, Brexit, and the pandemic, compounded by repeated government failure — including underfunding the NHS.

Research by the Health Foundation shows there are as many people aged 16 to 64 in work whose health limits what they can do as they are out of work because of ill-health.

Overall, it estimates nearly a fifth of the working-age population in the UK has what it calls a work-limiting condition.

In fact, the think tank believes the problem has become so bad that it is threatening the economic potential of the country.

[…]

So why are working-age people so ill? Christopher Rocks, who heads up the Health Foundation’s work in this area, says it is a “complicated” picture.

He says while there has been a lot of focus on the issue since the pandemic, the trend has actually been developing for the past decade at least.

“The 2008 financial crisis had a major impact on society - we saw an economic downturn and public spending cuts. That had an impact on people’s health in many different ways. The pandemic and subsequent cost of living crisis exacerbated trends, but the signs were there before Covid hit.

“Access to health care has become more difficult, while those fundamental building blocks of health - such as good housing and adequate incomes - are under strain.”

How that has affected people varies depending on their age and where they live. Research published this week warned the numbers with major illness was set to increase significantly. with the people in the most deprived areas suffering the most - many with multiple conditions.

The work, also published by the Health Foundation, found there were three main conditions causing a significant burden of ill-health: chronic pain, type 2 diabetes and mental health problems. Each is a reflection of the different challenges facing the country.

Source: BBC News

Book publishing doesn't work

Books on their side

Elle Griffin digged into the details of a court case from 2022 that involved Penguin Random House attempting to acquire another publishing house, Simon & Schuster. Some of the details shared are eye-opening.

I don’t think the models used by the book industry, or the academic publishing industry, are long for this world.

I think I can sum up what I’ve learned like this: The Big Five publishing houses spend most of their money on book advances for big celebrities like Brittany Spears and franchise authors like James Patterson and this is the bulk of their business. They also sell a lot of Bibles, repeat best sellers like Lord of the Rings, and children’s books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar. These two market categories (celebrity books and repeat bestsellers from the backlist) make up the entirety of the publishing industry and even fund their vanity project: publishing all the rest of the books we think about when we think about book publishing (which make no money at all and typically sell less than 1,000 copies).

[…]

The DOJ’s lawyer collected data on 58,000 titles published in a year and discovered that 90 percent of them sold fewer than 2,000 copies and 50 percent sold less than a dozen copies.

[…]

Having a lot of social media followers or fame doesn’t guarantee it will sell. The singer Billie Eilish, despite her 97 million Instagram followers and 6 million Twitter followers, sold only 64,000 copies within eight months of publishing her book. The singer Justin Timberlake sold only 100,000 copies in the three years after he published his book. Snoop Dog’s cookbook saw a boost during the pandemic, but he still only sold 205,000 copies in 2020.

[…]

The publishing houses may live to see another day, but I don’t think their model is long for this world. Unless you are a celebrity or franchise author, the publishing model won’t provide a whole lot more than a tiny advance and a dozen readers. If you are a celebrity, you’ll still have a much bigger reach on Instagram than you will with your book!

Personally, I could not be more grateful to skip the publishing houses altogether and write directly for my readers here, being supported by those who read this newsletter rather than by a publishing advance that won’t ultimately translate to people reading my work.

Source: The Elysian

Image: Tom Hermans

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”.

Incredible.

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](aeon.co/essays/be…

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](ianbetteridge.com/2024/01/2…

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