Thinking

Selfish

Thursday, 22 January, 2015 0 Comments

Yes, the European Central Bank’s belated embrace of quantitative easing will dominate today’s headlines, but given the widespread disaffection with the continent’s out-of-touch leadership and the gnawing sense of being left behind in an increasingly globalized world, Europeans are switching off. Instead of the dismal Mario Draghi, people want the fascinating Kim Kardashian. And she’s everywhere today.

First: Mrs Kanye West took to Instagram on Tuesday to share some snow shots while wearing a “Furkini” that shows off her big booty, flat tummy and signature boobs. She captioned the pic: “Boots with the fur…

Second: Medium has a marvellously nerdy piece titled “How PAPER Magazine’s web engineers scaled their back-end for Kim Kardashian (SFW)“. Snippet: “The first thing Knauss did was get a big honking server to run on the Amazon cloud, with a large hard drive. He copied all the images and files from the smaller original web server to the new, big server. Then he installed a piece of software called Gluster, which allows many computers to share files with each other—it’s sort of like a version of Dropbox that you can completely control.”

Third: On 28 April, Selfish, by Kim Kardashian, will be published. Blurb: “Kim has mastered the art of taking flattering and highly personal photos of oneself. For the first time in print, this book presents some of Kim’s favorite selfies in one volume.”

Over to you, Mario.

Selfie


Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Sunday, 18 January, 2015 0 Comments

The Latin phrase Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? is found in the Satires of the Roman poet Juvenal. The literal translation is “Who will guard the guards themselves?” and the question is commonly posed when referring to the problem of controlling the doings of people in positions of power, which brings us to Saint Fanahan.

It is said that he arrived in Brigown in County Cork in the seventh century and founded a monastery there. Over the generations, a cult of prayer and pilgrimage developed at St. Fanahan’s Well, just a short distance from the ruins of Brigown Church, which is all that is left of the monastic settlement. In the 13th century, a Norman family named “de St. Michel” founded “Villa Michel” in Brigown and the name evolved to Mitchelstown. Every year on 25 November, people from the community pay homage to Saint Fanahan, who now sits in stone in front of the Mitchelstown police station, guarding the guards.

Saint Fanahan


The Disruptive Polaroid

Friday, 5 December, 2014 0 Comments

To celebrate its 85th birthday, Businessweek has listed the 85 most disruptive ideas that have emerged during its lifetime. They range from GDP to the jet engine, and in between there’s the Pill, Singapore, <h1>HTML</h1>, Starbucks and the AK-47. When you mouse-over No. 84, it makes the whirring sound of a Polaroid picture being taken, and that’s because Edward Land’s innovation is adjudged to be one of the most disruptive ideas in recent times. In his tribute to the camera, Christopher Makos writes:

Polaroids were the first social network. You’d take a picture, and someone would say, “I want one, too,” so you’d give it away and take another. People shared Polaroids the way they now share information on social media. Of course, it was more personal, because you were sharing with just one person, not the entire world.

I met Andy Warhol in the ’70s at the Whitney Museum and started doing projects with him because he loved my photographs. He’d never had a pal who was a photographer, so I was his guru, showing him what cameras to buy, what pictures to take. Andy loved Polaroid. Everything was “gee whiz”; it was brand-new. So immediate.

Taking a selfie with a Polaroid is also very intimate. They weren’t called selfies back then, obviously. People weren’t as self-aware. We didn’t have 10 years of reality TV shows in the social consciousness. But Polaroid marked the beginning of self-awareness.

polaroids


Thankfully remembered

Thursday, 27 November, 2014 0 Comments

“Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not, but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess, and then thankfully remember how you would crave for them if they were not yours.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Marcus Aurelius


AI: Chappie and Ex Machina

Wednesday, 5 November, 2014 0 Comments

The fate of the gorillas now depends more on humans than on the actions of the gorillas themselves. So says Nick Bostrom. His alarming argument is that a time is coming when the fate of humanity could depend on the super-intelligence of machines. Bostrom lays out his thinking in his latest book, The Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. He worries that when machine brains surpass human brains in intelligence, this new “superintelligence” could become the dominant life-form, and if we want to avoid such a catastrophe, we’d better start planning now. The dangers of artificial intelligence are central to Ex Machina, which is coming to the big screen in spring.

Elon Musk, the business genius and inventor, CEO of Tesla Motors, CTO of SpaceX and chairman of SolarCity was born in South Africa, as was Neill Blomkamp, the director of Chappie, which is also coming to the cinema in spring. Chappie is a robot, but he’s super-intelligent enough to think and feel for himself. Which brings us back to Musk, who tweeted, “We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes.”

Speaking recently at the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics department’s Centennial Symposium, Musk called AI our biggest existential threat: “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. Increasingly scientists think there should be some regulatory oversight maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out.”


How do people get new ideas?

Friday, 24 October, 2014 0 Comments

“Thomas H. Huxley is supposed to have exclaimed after reading On the Origin of Species, ‘How stupid of me not to have thought of this.’ But why didn’t he think of it?” That was the question posed in 1959 by Isaac Asimov in an essay he wrote for an MIT spinoff, Allied Research Associates in Boston. Arthur Obermayer, a friend of the author, found the piece “while cleaning out some old files” and immediately recognized its relevance for the contemporary debate about creativity. It was published earlier this week in the MIT Technology Review. Snippets:

“Consequently, the person who is most likely to get new ideas is a person of good background in the field of interest and one who is unconventional in his habits. (To be a crackpot is not, however, enough in itself.)”

“My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required… The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing.”

“The world in general disapproves of creativity, and to be creative in public is particularly bad. Even to speculate in public is rather worrisome.”

Asimov did concede that group thinking by ‘creatives’ might worthwhile now and then, as “a meeting of such people may be desirable for reasons other than the act of creation itself.” He argued, however, that “a meeting in someone’s home or over a dinner table at some restaurant is perhaps more useful than one in a conference room.” And a few drinks might be in order, too, because “there should be a feeling of informality. Joviality, the use of first names, joking, relaxed kidding are, I think, of the essence — not in themselves, but because they encourage a willingness to be involved in the folly of creativeness.”


The Falling Man

Thursday, 11 September, 2014 0 Comments

Tom Junod’s September 2003 piece for Esquire magazine, “The Falling Man,” which told the story of the iconic photograph taken by Richard Drew on 9/11, has been read millions of times. Today, Esquire is asking readers to make a $2.99 donation to continue reading the article. The money will go to the James Foley Scholarship Fund, in honour of the American journalist who was beheaded by the Islamic State terror group last month. By the way, the fee is completely optional. You can still read the story without paying.

“At fifteen seconds after 9:41 A.M., on September 11, 2001, a photographer named Richard Drew took a picture of a man falling through the sky—falling through time as well as through space. The picture went all around the world, and then disappeared, as if we willed it away. One of the most famous photographs in human history became an unmarked grave, and the man buried inside its frame—the Falling Man—became the Unknown Soldier in a war whose end we have not yet seen. Richard Drew’s photograph is all we know of him, and yet all we know of him becomes a measure of what we know of ourselves. The picture is his cenotaph, and like the monuments dedicated to the memory of unknown soldiers everywhere, it asks that we look at it, and make one simple acknowledgment.

That we have known who the Falling Man is all along.”

CRIME TERRORISM WTC WORLD TRADE CENTER BOMBING TWIN TOWERS TERRORIST ATTACK VICTIM JUMPING FROM BUILDING PEOPLE FALLING DOWN JUMPING OUT BODY


The Socratic Method

Sunday, 3 August, 2014 0 Comments

There’s a story that Socrates had a student who asked him, “How can I get wisdom?” So, Socrates walked him down to the beach until they were both standing waist-high in the water. Then he grabbed the student’s head and pushed it underwater, holding it there while the student struggled and kicked. When he let go and the student stood up, gasping for air, Socrates said, “When you want wisdom as much as you wanted that next breath, you’ll get it.”


Fear of flying

Friday, 25 July, 2014 0 Comments

It was a brave thing for Craig Mod to write “Let’s fly: How to survive air travel” on Wednesday. Brave because it has been a horrific week for aviation as 464 people have died in airliner disasters over the past seven days.

Yesterday, an Algerian plane carrying 118 passengers and crew from Ouagadougou to Algiers crashed in northern Mali, claiming the lives of everyone aboard. On Wednesday, a TransAsia Airways flight crashed during an emergency landing in Taiwan and 48 passengers died, and that tragedy came a week after Malaysia Airlines’ flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing the 298 passengers and crew on board.

Air travel remains incredibly safe, however. According to planecrashinfo.com, between 25 and 35 major planes disasters happened each year throughout the 1960s and ’70s. But the last time that figure hit 20 was 1997, and it’s declined steadily ever since.

“You are on a plane but are not. You could be anywhere. You are untouchable. You are possibly the most insufferable traveler ever. You float and smile because you are the Dalai Lama.

This is how you survive air travel.”

So says Craig Mod.


Cacti with Alps

Sunday, 23 March, 2014 0 Comments

“It was a fairy-tale world, child-like and funny. Boughs of trees adorned with thick pillows, so fluffy someone must have plumped them up; the ground a series of humps and mounds, beneath which slinking underbrush or outcrops of rock lay hidden; a landscape of crouching, cowering gnomes in droll disguises — it was comic to […]

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Would you like counselling during your crucifixion?

Tuesday, 29 October, 2013 0 Comments

In 1980, the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz, then living in exile in California. Although he served as a post-war cultural attaché of the newly formed People’s Republic of Poland in Paris and Washington DC, Milosz became increasingly disillusioned with Stalinist dogma and in 1953 he wrote The Captive Mind, which exposed the pernicious effects of Marxist orthodoxy on his generation of idealists. “Written before the Berlin Wall went up, The Captive Mind was a key factor in eventually bringing it down,” noted the critic Clive James in Cultural Amnesia.

When the Polish intelligentsia was being “wiped out half by one set of madmen and half by another”, Milosz found strength in the Bible because it “provided a standard of authenticity against a much more dangerous language, the language of legalized murder,” writes James, a confirmed atheist. Of his own position regarding the Good Book, he declares: “But without the scriptures we poor wretches would be lost indeed, because without them, conscience itself would become just another disturbance of the personality to be cured by counselling. We are surrounded by voices telling us that everything will come right if we learn to love ourselves. Imagine the torment of Jesus in his passion, if, on top of the sponge of vinegar and the spear, they had offered him counselling as well.”

Dali