Boris Smus

interaction engineering

Links for February 2022

Generated image of Georg Cantor contemplating infinity

  • Against longtermism (Aeon) — Torres argues that an over-focus on the long term is dangerous because it ignores shorter term existential threats, and encourages endless growth, which itself might be the cause of our problems. As a fan of long term thinking, I found this very provocative. What is the synthesis between pollyannaish beliefs in technology and degrowth?
  • Web3 is Self-Certifying (Jay Graber) — Graber describes the concept of self-certifying data, which "enables trust to reside in the data itself, not in where you found it, allowing apps to move away from client-server architectures." Examples of protocols that enable this include git, BitTorrent, IPFS, and SSB.
  • What’s the Point If We Can’t Have Fun? (David Graeber) – In a rambling article, Graeber highlights Kropotkin's argument that species that cooperate most effectively tend to be the most competitive in the long run. Kropotkin argues that animal cooperation often has nothing to do with survival or reproduction, but is a form of pleasure in itself.
  • Feynman and The Connection Machine (Long Now) — A sometimes touching vignette of Richard Feynman, as seen by Danny Hillis, who founded Thinking Machines to build the world's fastest parallel supercomputers in the 1980s. Nobody really knew how to build computers back then, so the problem was left to amateurs like Hillis and Feynman.
  • The Internet Is Just Investment Banking Now (The Atlantic) — Argues that Web3 is “the most honest turn of the internet epoch”: many things in our everyday life have become financialized, and while Web2 entrepreneurs have tried to hide that behind a facade of idealism, the new world of crypto at last makes the financialization explicit.
  • Why Cisco’s ‘spin-ins’ never caught on (Financial Times) — In the 90's, Cisco pioneered the model of 'spin-ins': a group of employees would leave Cisco and form a new company with well defined short-term goals, which if achieved, required Cisco to acquire the venture and possibly breed resentment from less entrepreneurial peers. On the other hand, the downside for the entrepreneurs was also quite high, since they would end up with nothing if no acquisition took place.
  • Is Old Music Killing New Music? (Ted Gioia) — Top 40 charts, Grammy Awards, and other incarnations of mainstream pop culture seem to be losing their cultural cache. Instead, songs most in demand are by musicians in their 70s and 80s, if not already dead.
  • Can You Warm Yourself with Your Mind? (New Yorker) — Studies in Nature show that advanced practitioners of g-tummo meditation can raise their core temperature by 1-2°C, or their extremities by around 10°C. This is done by contracting abdominal and pelvic muscles and visualizing a flame rising from below the navel to the top of the head.
  • Why the Web Won't Be Nirvana (1995) (Newsweek) — A cantankerous skeptic dumps on the future of the web, producing a litany of predictions which are wrong to various degrees. Revisiting pundits from the past is a useful exercise that reminds us just how difficult the future is to predict.
  • A Moment of Clarity (Noah Smith) — In addition to astute observations on the eve of Russia's war on Ukraine, Smith describes a clear headedness on shared American values that surely must have been felt internally, even by adherents of "warmed-over Chomsky".