Monday Misc and Stuff

  1. Otis the 3rd – Time [youtube]
  2. Fortune coverage of OpenAI’s history. Interesting tidbits on payout structure of investments and did not realize that Anthropic split out of OpenAI [Fortune]
  3. “network of networks” – Visa corporate history. Tom Noyes’ seven core functions that pretenders would have to replicate if they want to compete: 1) An economic model that encourages shared investment; 2) Strong standardised contracts; 3) Certification with active enforcement; 4) Trust – Bank (issuer) role in managing transaction risk; 5) Active customer and merchant support (enabled by economic model); 6) Ubiquity – it works everywhere all the time; 7) Innovation – Shared investment, standards and integration. One way of thinking about Visa’s edge is that you could never get so many parties to agree. [Net Interest substack]

Sunday Misc and Stuff

  1. The Great Automatic Grammatizator (by Roald Dahl), 1954 [14 page PDF]
  2. “Advocates say the best governments already yield authority by, for example, “tying their hands” through delegating monetary policy to an independent central bank. Mauritius, arguably Africa’s most successful economy, has outsourced its final court of appeal to Britain’s privy council, improving its reputation for rule of law and becoming a successful offshore financial centre in the process… Romer’s idea of a charter city is not private sector-led. He says most of the entrepreneur-led projects are not charter cities at all. Instead, he imagines a state setting up a jurisdiction and outsourcing provision of government services.” FT on how to create a city.

Saturday Misc and Stuff

  1. Maintenance: Stewart Brand’s story on the maintenance habits of three participants in the world’s first round-the-world solo yacht race. Lessons include how sometimes maintenance involves shooting the shark; how preparation allows us to ‘make do and mend’; how to use a book to measure thousandths of an inch; Doing maintenance cures depression; the French Navy puts on ten coats of paint before any launch; Simplicity is a form of beauty.’ Conclusion?: The different maintenance styles of the three sailors led directly to their different outcomes. Knox-Johnston’s style was: “Whatever comes, deal with it.” And he did. Crowhurst’s was: “Hope for the best.” It killed him. Moitessier’s was: “Prepare for the worst.” It freed him. And separately via Chartbook, Pierre Bourdieu : “Nous naissons déterminés et nous avons une petite chance de devenir libres” – “we are born determined and we have a small chance of becoming free.” Via maintenance!
  2. More on color: Olive Ayhens, “Music color is my first language and i’ve always like been just enthralled with it i feel i can do whatever i want with color i can make it real joyful or i can make it really morbid or you know or i can make it really opposite there are no rules like that i think it’s kind of like poetry we did it in the caves we’ll do it in the space capsules.”
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camelidae and a weirdly interesting video.
  4. The Senegal Dream for a radio story version of The Pirogue
  5. Tall libraries with mural on them [twitter]
Olive Ayhens
Camelid in the City
Looks like a guanaco to me.

Friday Misc and Stuff

  1. Halfway down the first page, there was one scribbled word: “Monorail!” – 1962 Trouble and 2014 Conan singing Monorail at the the Hollywood Bowl
  2. The eternal modern: When I was young, a 94-year old chair (from the 1870s) looked like a Victorian antique. Now a 94-year old chair looks completely modern, and always will look modern. [Scott Sumner Money Illusion]
A 94 year old chair.

Colors!

  1. Colours, colours
  2. Wonderful, wonderful colours
  3. See, all the colours!

Color link #1: une petite boutique de pastels parisiens [FT; no paywall, good pics]: The physical properties of pastels, the way in which the powder sits loosely on the surface of the paper, make pastel artworks both luminous and fragile. “The precious powder falls off as easily as scales from a butterfly’s wings,” wrote the French philosopher and critic Denis Diderot in 1765…. As a young artist, he lived in poverty but became obsessed with pastels, beginning with Sennelier sticks then graduating to Rochés. It was like moving, Szafran said, “from a horse and cart to a Ferrari”. “I don’t know what it is about pastels,” continues Isabelle. “I see them as these objects with a kind of soul. Each one is different.” She turns to the drawers next to her. “My cousin Huberte would open the drawers and say, ‘there are people in there.’” Inside the shop, the city sounds faint beyond the archway. The room smells of pastels and the old wood of the furniture. “Prussian Blue smells sweet,” says Isabelle, “some reds too, earth pigments smell musty, other pigments relatively odourless.” Each stick of colour is a little piece of the world ground down and formed into something new: California Poppy, Reddish Grey, Storm Green, Seraphin Blue, Crepuscular Violet, Velvet Black, Galaxy Black, Extra Black.

Color Link #2: How the colours in ancient Pompeian frescoes ‘spoke’ to Mark Rothko [The Art Newspaper]: Mark Rothko visited Pompeii in the 1950s and saw the below frescoes. The red behind the figures evokes Rothko’s own work.

“Rothko encouraged viewers to stand about 18 inches from his paintings surfaces in order to properly experience them…. What becomes evident is not the content of paintings, their narratives or subjects, but their specific presence as objects. It’s a little like standing face to face with another person at close range: after the initial awkwardness has passed, a more acute sense of them as a physical being emerges.”

“Rothko evidently recognised that colour might be able to speak to a spectator directly, in an immediate way, that cuts across levels of expertise, prior knowledge or experience. The fact that he found the same kind of effect in the ancient wall paintings of Pompeii might seem ahistorical—those frescoes aren’t abstract, after all, at least not in a conventional sense—but might also be seen as a profound moment of awareness”

A section of fresco from the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii
Google

Wednesday Misc and Stuff

  1. In 1810, the use of nails in the US economy was 0.4 percent of nominal GDP. To put this share into perspective, in 2019 household purchases of personal computers and peripheral equipment amounted to roughly 0.3 percent of GDP and household purchases of air travel amounted to about 0.5 percent. That is, back in the 1700s and early 1800s, nails were about as important in the economy as computers or air travel purchased by consumers are today. [AEA]
  2. “It has become one of the main occupations of mankind just watching other people… Everybody has become porous. The light and the message goes right through us… When you are on the air and on the air we do not have a physical body. You are just an image on the air. When you don’t have a physical body you are a discarnate being. You have a very different relation to the world around you. And this I think has been of the big effects of the electric age. It has deprived people really of their private identity…. Everybody tends to merge their identity with other people at the speed of light. It’s called being mass man.” [Twitter video]
  3. Famous photos and the cameras they we shot on [Twitter thread]
  4. If an article has these two images, you have to read it! [Reuters’ Dark Arctic]
Svalbard’s SvalSat downloads time-sensitive data from most of the world’s commercial and scientific satellites.

The impact of bad geography

From “the race to be the gateway to Eastern and Central Africa.” Below is a wild example of how geography matters and affects surprising aspects of life. Landlocked countries import a lot more stuff so their inbound roads get noticeably distorted from all the weight.

Historical economic stunting means that landlocked countries typically import more than they export and ship small volumes (thereby missing out on economics of scale). The stark disparity in imports/exports is often visible in the form of disproportionate road damage from overweight trucks (or poor engineering) on inward-bound lanes (see image of the road near the Kenya/Uganda Malaba border post).

For more details on how to this might change:

Kenya and Tanzania are in a race to be the gateway to Eastern and Central Africa, an economic catchment area with a population of 200m and GDP of $250b (USA=$23t). The DRC current accounts for the largest share of transit cargo through Tanzania. Uganda accounts for the lion’s share of transit cargo through Kenya. However, the spirited competition between Kenya and Tanzania risks creating over-capacity in the short run (population growth will guarantee demand in the long run)

Tuesday Misc and Stuff

  1.  Tony Zhou on Tampopo in The Amateur and the Craftsperson. From Michael Chabon, “amateurs are people who combine obsessive scholarship, passionate curiosity, curatorial tenderness, and an irrepressible desire to join in.”
  2. Tout-à-Coup Jazz was a musical group formed in Burkina Faso in the 1970s. In French, tout à coup is an adverb meaning “suddenly” or “out of the blue”. The band included Captain Thomas Sankara on guitar and his close friend, Captain Blaise Compaoré, on the microphone. In 1983, Compaoré led a military coup against Major Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo, placing his friend Sankara as President… On 15 October 1987, Sankara was killed in a military coup orchestrated by Blaise Compaoré, who succeeded him as President. Affected by Sankara’s death, [Fela Kuti] wrote “Underground System” as a musical tribute to the only African leader to embrace him and his music.

The only answer to a LLM is another LLM

From the @vebaccount‘s substack:

The thing is, [asking an LLM something] is just a radicalization of something that has been known about since the development of poetry as a method of language use. This is maybe a bit of an idiosyncratic view, but i’ve always understood the “point” of poetry to be in the demonstration that the image-arrangements or “argument” of the poem are already laying “in the language as such” in ways that are evidenced by their expressibility in rhyme and meter.

This is basically the old Emersonian point at the top of the page: a “poem” is when an argument is so much itself that it can simply appear, and take a metrical form as an indication of its always-already having been present in the language, but just not organized into a poem yet. What the poet does is notice the concatenation of the geometric “fact” of the poem’s possibility within a particular rhyme-and-meter space, and point that out. This is why I have always considered poetry to be a version of nonfiction: the poem is the words that are there where there is a pointer labeled “poem”.

That’s from A Short Note On Large Language Models. And:

What’s funny about this way of looking at it is that it correctly moves all anxieties about these models and their use into anxieties about the political construction of societies and the intentional construction of audiences. The answer isn’t really to restrict them per se, but to respond with a combination of Nelson Goodman-inflected Audience Development and Deweyan Democracy. But then, that’s my answer to every problem. I think it is good for political things to be openly political, and for the political uses of less-than-political things to be identified as such.

And:

“For it is not metres, but a metre-making argument, that makes a poem, – a thought so passionate and alive, that, like the spirit of a plant or an animal, it has an architecture of its own, and adorns nature with a new thing.”- Emerson, “The Poet”

Sunday Misc and Stuff

  1. “the cornerstone of internet success is not intelligence or novelty or outrageousness or even speed, but regularity.” — Max Read on the WashPo Yglesias [Max Read Substack]
  2. Pettis on Poznar: “The key to global currency “domination” is not how excited the political elite say they are about having their currency dominate. It is how willing they are to allow clear and transparent foreign ownership of domestic assets and, even more importantly, how willing and able they are to give up control of their capital and trade accounts. Beijing has made it clear it wants none of those things, and while I think they are right to reject these, it also means that the RMB cannot really act as a major international currency.” [@michaelxpettis thread]. And Pettis on Fighting Global Protection: Why the Economist is Mistaken