Just another * hacker
6,355 words

Vampires: a hidden tragedy

I was very much hoping for splendidly gothic vampires when we moved here – the kind who are never seen except in immaculate late-19th-century evening dress complete with silk-lined cloak (the linings red for the men, very dark blue for the women). The kind who prey exclusively on impressionable young county tories.

Sadly we only get the shamblers: the kind who will drain a sheep if they can't find a human. Perhaps that's because, even here in deepest ruralshire, there are insufficient young tories to prey on, the average age of tories being what it is. All the posh vampires have gradually moved away & now live lives of splendid nocturnal dissolution in Chelsea, where the sheer density of both people and money ensures an adequate supply of their exclusive prey.

After CV19 they may be rethinking their priorities: perhaps having to drink the odd sheep will seem worth it. Vampires are sadly one of the groups most affected by CV19: it's not a lifestyle very compatible with social distancing, shall we say. While they have not been made public, I am informed that figures for both infection and, well, not mortality of course, but descent into the sad shambling state that awaits them all, eventually, are frighteningly high.

If you are in possession of a rambling country mansion, especially the sort of pastiche that Victorians or Edwardians would have regarded as an establishment suitable for a mediaeval count, but in fact anything dark and sinister will do, then expect to get financially attractive offers from very well-dressed people who wish to view the property at night. These offers may be difficult to refuse, especially if you are an impressionable young county tory or in possession of one. It is, in fact, your duty to your country to accept: the extinction of one of the country's greatest assets must be avoided.

Genius & craft

We all worship geniuses, but while we might respect people who are really good at some craft we also kind of sneer at them. What they're doing is only a craft after all: some kind of lesser skill which you learn through an apprenticeship and long practice rather than at university, the way proper geniuses learn. But genius and being really good at a craft are much more similar than people often like to admit: one of the most important characteristics of being a genius is the ability to put in a huge amount of practice.

There are many good examples of this. Take Einstein, perhaps the canonical example of someone we think of as a genius. He published the special relativity paper in 1905 (as well as a bunch of other papers, including the one he won the Nobel prize for), but general relativity was not published until 1916 and was not sorted-out at all until that year (he didn't just sit on it for a long time). What did he do in the eleven years between SR and GR? He worked, really hard, most of the time: he learnt a bunch of mathematics (and learning mathematics well enough that you can use it as a tool requires a lot of rote practice: I know this, because I've done it and eventually failed to put in enough practice) and he went through a bunch of incorrect attempts at dealing with gravity and generally struggled with the thing. And it took him eleven years to do this: GR was not some stroke of genius which appeared out of the blue, it was the result of years and years of work, of years and years of practice.

Now, well, if I spent eleven years from 1905 working on a theory of gravity I would be unlikely to have come up with GR: Einstein was, in fact, smarter than I am. But he was also willing to work much harder than me over a much longer period of time. Much, perhaps most, of what we call 'genius' is this ability to put in astonishing amounts of practice.

And much, perhaps most of what is needed to become really good at a craft is also the ability to put in astonishing amounts of practice. So what, in fact, is the difference? The difference is that we've anointed the things geniuses do as important, while we treat the things craftspeople do as, well, just crafts. They might require just as much work, and just as much dedication, but they will never be as good because it says so in our big book of good things. Well, I say this book is junk: what brilliant craftspeople do is the same as what the people we call geniuses do, because geniuses are brilliant craftspeople, and brilliant craftspeople are geniuses.

How to kill a lot of people

Or: the UK's contact-tracing app.

If Google, a company whose entire business model is based on surveillance, are not supporting the model you want to use because it's too privacy-invasive, then you kind of know you're making a bad decision. If you find yourselves dealing with Palantir as part of providing the app, then you kind of know you're making a bad decision. (Dealing with Palantir is like that meeting where you realise that the chief sales person has eyes which glow a dull red and horns: if you find yourself dealing with the devil, walk away unless, possibly, you have met him at a crossroads and he is offering you the ability to play the guitar really well.)

But of course, they didn't walk away, because they're being driven by Cummings and his idiot minions: when you're a data 'scientist' all you understand is that gathering really large amount of data is the solution to all problems. Want to steal a referendum? gather a lot of data and use it in illegal ways. Want to deal with a virus which is killing thousands of people? gather a lot of data. Want to deal with climate change? gather a lot of data and then lie that it's not happening. Because that's all you know how to do: all you understand.

How many people will die because of the reduced uptake of this idiot solution?

Languages & dialects

אַ שפּראַך איז אַ דיאַלעקט מיט אַן אַרמיי און פֿלאָט
/ a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot

– Max Weinreich

A programming language is a dialect with a standards organisation

– tfb

Cranks

Arguing with a crank is like fighting an octopus: whenever you think you’re winning there’s another tentacle to deal with. But the cranks are now in power: the octopus now has an infinite number of tentacles, and a flamethrower.

The barefoot contessa

To make a hundred dollars into a hundred and ten dollars – this is work. To make a hundred million into a hundred and ten million, this is inevitable.

Conversations between astronomers and other scientists

Other scientist

I had this clever idea that you could do something like [...] only of course the engineering considerations would make it completely impractical: maybe in a century. Obviously you will credit me with the idea.

Astronomer

Oh, yes, we used to do that, but we worked out that [...] would be better. Of course what we do now requires [obviously completely absurd engineering even in theory], but we got it all sorted out in the end.

Other scientist

[gives up science, becomes computer programmer].

Reality-based community

The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community’, which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. [But] that’s not the way the world really works anymore’.

– Ron Suskind