Boris Smus

interaction engineering

Reading in 2018

I read and listened to a few books in 2018. My highlights include speculative fiction stories from Chinese authors: Ted Chiang, Liu Cixin, Ken Liu's translations of, Chen Qiufan, Xia Jia, Hao Jingfang. Also really enjoyed Player of Games and Darkness at Noon. On the non-fiction front, I listened to two excellent history lectures: one on modern China, another on the French Revolution. I also read a pair of books describing cyclical views of history: The Fourth Turning and a more scientific take, War and Peace and War. A standout non-fiction favorite was Impro, which I will definitely be returning to.

Most of my internet reading happens through Instapaper, which affords me a handy chronicle of articles that I enjoyed. Here are a few of them (excerpts are not endorsements):

  • Between 1900 and 1910, Seattle’s population tripled, from just over 80,000 to more than 230,000 people. The Story Behind Seattle's Obsession With Craftsman Homes
  • The demo drew rave reviews from the technology press. No, Google’s Pixel Buds won’t change the world
  • That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, Animated in Motion Graphics
  • Our choice is not between "regulation" and "no regulation." The code regulates. It implements values, or not. It enables freedoms, or disables them. It protects privacy, or promotes monitoring. Code Is Law
  • In other words: AIs are best at choosing answers. Humans are best at choosing questions. How To Become A Centaur
  • Today’s belief in ineluctable certainty is the true innovation-killer of our age. In this environment, the best an audacious manager can do is to develop small improvements to existing systems — climbing the hill, as it were, toward a local maximum, trimming fat, eking out the occasional tiny innovation — like city planners painting bicycle lanes on the streets as a gesture toward solving our energy problems. Innovation Starvation
  • There is no reason to let a company make so much money while potentially helping to radicalize billions of people YouTube, the Great Radicalizer
  • Favoring the “soft” aspects of a college application is straightforwardly beneficial to the more privileged at the expense of the less. The Progressive Case for the SAT
  • Science fiction allows us the distance to circumvent issue fatigue in our very troubled times. Science fiction when the future is now
  • Isaiah Berlin, sobered by the 20th century’s failed utopias, has argued for a more modest liberal pluralism that makes room for multiple, genuinely conflicting goods. Family and work, solidarity and autonomy, tradition and innovation are really valuable, and really in tension When Truth and Reason Are No Longer Enough
  • I am not a relativist; I do not say "I like my coffee with milk and you like it without; I am in favor of kindness and you prefer concentration camps" Isaiah Berlin on Pluralism
  • Unstructured, unsupervised time for play is one of the most important things we have to give back to kids if we want them to be strong and happy and resilient. The Fragile Generation
  • The average net worth among adults in the 95th to 99th percentile is about $1.7 million. Among the 0.1 percent, it’s about $60 million. Who, exactly, are the aristocrats again? Forget What the Atlantic Is Telling You. The 1 Percent Are Still the Problem
  • We are a species that strives not just for survival, but also for significance. We want lives that matter. Is This an Existential Crisis?
  • To support triangulation, we recommend a shift to a contributorship model, similar to the credits that roll at the end of a film — a long list of individuals with their contributions described fully and specifically Robust research needs many lines of evidence
  • Do whatever you can’t stop thinking about. Documenting your findings in public (regardless of outcomes!) is a worthy contribution to society, full stop. The independent researcher
  • Various studies have identified cooperation as a core theme in popular narratives across the world. ... nearly 80% of their tales concerned moral decision making and social dilemmas Our fiction addiction: Why humans need stories
  • The transhumanist vision too easily reduces all of reality to data, concluding that “humans are nothing but information-processing objects.” Survival of the Richest
  • This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very basis of human thinking in the past centuries. ... It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of everything that exists. A World Split Apart
  • Concoct one story where things get better, one where they get worse, and one where they get weird. How to Make a Big Decision
  • Particularly sad is the belief that the majority of the homeless were drunks, drug addicts, criminals or thieves. It is true that the category “homeless” has come to include all of those people, but there are so many, many more who are none of those things. Why I started giving to the homeless
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, Magic Leap is almost entirely built on the visions of grown men wanting to immerse themselves in fantasy worlds. The Magic Leap Con
  • The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the "rat race"-the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing. This is Water
  • The big mistake in this pattern of failure is projecting your subjective lack of comprehension onto the object you are looking at, as “irrationality.” We make this mistake because we are tempted by a desire for legibility. A Big Little Idea Called Legibility
  • There is something sinister and corrupt—Maoist—in the habit of assigning people to categories. America Is Addicted to Outrage. Is There a Cure?
  • Like the open office, the loud restaurant seems to have overstayed its welcome. That’s because loud restaurants are more profitable. How Restaurants Got So Loud