• "As I have grown as a person and as a maker-of-things, that question has come back to me again and again. I have learned how and when to stop  talking and start doing. To other more-talker sorts of people, that can  look like a magic trick. I have better learned to recognize when someone is frustrated by communicating-in-words about a plan instead of performing the plan. These are learnable skills; and I have seen that there  are commensurate skills that have to be hard-won for doers.

    Instead of an accusation or a challenge, it’s become a gentle reminder:  you’re more of a talker than a doer. Keep an eye on it."

    Writing from Sam Bleckley on talking, making, thinking, and doing. Moving from one state to the other, and back again. This struck a chord.

  • "It now makes absolute sense that this comes from a nation a non-trivial amount of which is below sea level and who’s storied history is in fact chock full of water engineering feats. It stands now to reason that this could only come from the Dutch. Or some kid from Nebraska who just loved water parks as a kid, ended up baked out of his mind on the streets of Amsterdam for nine years until he discovered his long lost passion and talent for making side scroller games. Chances are it was both." Jim is writing about games and it's a delight.
  • "While there has been plenty of fiction written about pandemics, I think the biggest difference between those scenarios and our reality is how poorly our government has handled it. If your goal is to dramatize the threat posed by an unknown virus, there’s no advantage in depicting the officials responding as incompetent, because that minimizes the threat; it leads the reader to conclude that the virus wouldn’t be dangerous if competent people were on the job. A pandemic story like that would be similar to what’s known as an “idiot plot,” a plot that would be resolved very quickly if your protagonist weren’t an idiot. What we’re living through is only partly a disaster novel; it’s also—and perhaps mostly—a grotesque political satire." Ted Chiang on what stories about change and revolution do (and what _actual_ change and revolution also do).
  • Great piece of games journalism from Duncan Fyfe: the history and legacy of Mastermind. Wide-ranging, great bits of research. Love it.

    "The earliest reference to Bulls and Cows is in the work of Dr. Frank King. In 1968, King was studying for a PhD in electrical engineering at Cambridge University and looking for something to implement on the university's Titan computer, which had recently been equipped with Multics, a time-sharing operating system allowing multiple users to access one computer concurrently and remotely.

    Thinking a game would be enjoyable, and something more sophisticated than Tic-Tac-Toe even better, King wrote a version of a childhood puzzle. "Good grief, you've implemented Bulls and Cows," he remembers other students saying, though he called it MOO."

  • Greatly enjoyed eevee's history of CSS and browser-based code; particularly, I enjoyed the moment where you're following along with things you knew… and then you viscerally go "oh, _here's_ where I began!" I twinged as I remembered where I began, my move away from table-based layout… and then the point where I started battling quirks mode for a living…
  • "Everything is Someone is a book about objects, technology, humans, and everything in-between. It is composed of seven “future fables” for children and adults, which move from the present into a future in which “being” and “thinking” are activities not only for humans. Absorbing and thought-provoking, this collection explores the point where technology and philosophy meet, seen through the eyes of kids, vacuum cleaners, factories and mountains.

    From a man that wants to become a table, to the first vacuum cleaner that bought another vacuum cleaner, all the way to a mountain that became the president of a nation, each story brings the reader into a different perspective, extrapolating how some of the technologies we are developing today, will bur the line between, us, devices, and natural beings too."

    Simone has a book out!

Not Like A Road To Follow

23 January 2020

At the end of the course I’ve taught for the past three years, I offer some more general advice for existing-as-a-person to my students (who are studying “Digital Management”, and I am teaching them about technology.

I put up a single slide with the word

Read

which is advice you will have heard from countless Successful Entrepreneurs and Busy Executives, who tell you the importance of books, and then tell you all about these popular cognitive-science books they’ve read, or Books About Business.

I then replace it with this slide:

Read fiction

and usually say something like

Read fiction. I don’t mean “read sf to have ideas about the future.” I mean “read any form of fiction, genre or no”. Fiction allows us to have other ideas, live other lives, see other perspectives. It allows us to escape and re-consider the world from outside ourselves. It allows us to think at lengths and timescales that we may not from day-to-day. It is a shortcut to containing multitudes; to other minds.

Anyhow.

I was reading the The Atlantic writing about how they are publishing more fiction, and that put me onto this excellent quotation by Alice Munro. I like it a lot because it conveys to people for whom fiction is a linear thing, a narrative that starts and plot happens and then stops, the other thing that happens when you exist inside fiction, and why you might reread books. I will be using in future:

A story is not like a road to follow … it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time. It also has a sturdy sense of itself of being built out of its own necessity, not just to shelter or beguile you.

(From her introduction to her own Selected Stories, 1996.)