Tag Archives: ideas

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Thinking about how topics of interest change


I was thinking about how topics of interest change when I came across this link I had saved since 2016: Should we have intervened in Syria? I don’t know – and neither do most armchair generals.

Back when Obama was president, whether or not the US should intervene in Syria was a hot topic. Articles like this struggled with whether or not something should be done about it. It was hard not to think about, both because it was terrible and because there was alot of media devoted to it.

Then Trump became President. Suddenly everything shifted. Terrible things went on in Syria, but it was no longer a topic of interest in much of North America.  I confess I barely know what is going on there now.

It’s a good reminder to me how much of what I think about is driven by who ever can get information in front of you. And it’s also a reminder of why disinformation campaigns will get stronger and stronger.

I don’t know what the answer is. I just know I have to constantly remind myself that just because it appears something is important or unimportant, my ability to assess that is shaped very much by others. There may be topics I spend a lot of time thinking about and researching. But most of the time, and for most people, that is not possible.

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Yes, social networking technology distorts how you think of the world


And this piece tries to show how this happens: The Social-Network Illusion That Tricks Your Mind – MIT Technology Review

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Some basic thoughts on “Friends”: it’s roots and its relationship to screwball comedy


It’s the 25th anniversary of “Friends”, and a number of reviews I read talk about it looking backwards.This piece, though, does something better: it looks at where the series came up from.  Key quote to me was this:

Chandler, who is so indifferent about what he does that he is unable to pay his job even the small courtesy of hating it—Chandler, besuited and bedraggled, whose work in computer-something-or-other summons the amorphous anxieties of the coming digital age. … It is through Chandler, in the end, that Reality Bites finds its way into Friends’ otherwise chipper cosmology. His work is simply there, looming, draining, tautological. His laconic resentments of it invoke the precise strain of Gen Xed ennui the novelist Douglas Coupland had described earlier in the decade: the mistrust of institutions, the mistrust of professions, the mistrust of meaning itself.

You can see in the quote the tie to Douglas Coupland’s  book Generation X and the film Reality Bites. These are the roots of “Friends”. ‘Friends’ at 25: The Prescience of Chandler Bing’s Job – The Atlantic. That generation after the boomers needed a show, and many of them found it in “Friends”. Now people look back at it and many mock a show about six well dressed people living in an amazing apartment in NYC. But “Friends” then tried to make sense of becoming an adult, or “adulting”, to use a word that came along later. The fact that people have such fondness for it makes me think it resonated with them and it represents part of their lives.

I always liked “Friends”, but for a different reason. I am a fan of screwball comedy, and that series often went there. Seinfeld did absurdist comedy well, but I loved that this series did a comedic style I loved so much. Watch some episodes of “Friends” and then watch a classic screwball comedy like “Bringing Up Baby” or “His Girl Friday” and you will see the similarities.

All comedy series go pear shaped after a time, and the things that made it originally great fades. For a time “Friends” was one of the best comedies on TV, and it was great then because of the form of comedy it aspired to and because of the way it represented the time it was rooted in.

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The decline in the arts as a bachelor degree major


Can be seen here: Has the Sharp Decline in Philosophy Majors Hit Bottom? (guest post by Eric Schwitzgebel) – Daily Nous.

It is remarkable how much majors in history and philosophy have declined. I feel we need these things more than ever. That said, my bachelor degree is with a major in computer science. I have studied much philosophy and history since then, but not in an academic setting. It would be good to find a way to study them more formally without the commitment of getting a bachelor degree.

There are so many online sites teaching computer science topics. We need more that teach philosophy and history in the same way.

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Checking in with death

If this sounds morbid and unappealing, I recommend you overcome that and give it a read: Checking in with death – Austin Kleon.

Checking in with death lets you live better. If you are into mindfulness or dealing with mental health issues or just want to appreciate life more, I recommend checking in with death.

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Did Rembrandt’s use mirrors for his paintings?


It’s debatable for sure, but there are a number of people who think he did. This piece (from a few years ago) titled The Mirrors Behind Rembrandt’s Self-Portraits in The New York Times  looks into one paper that argues so

In a paper published Wednesday in the Journal of Optics, Mr. O’Neill lays out a theory that Rembrandt set up flat and concave mirrors to project his subjects — including himself — onto surfaces before painting or etching them.

By tracing these projections, the 17th-century painter would have been able to achieve a higher degree of precision, Mr. O’Neill said. His research suggests that some of Rembrandt’s most prominent work may not have been done purely freehand, as many art historians believe.

He is not the first to suggest that old master painters used optics for their famous portraits.

In 2001, David Hockney, a renowned British painter, and Charles Falco, an optical sciences professor at the University of Arizona, published a book in which they argued that master painters secretly used mirrors and lenses to create hyperrealistic paintings, starting in the Renaissance.

Their theory, known as the Hockney-Falco thesis, generated controversy among scientists and art historians, some of whom took the findings as an implication that old master painters had “cheated” to produce their works.

I’ve read Hockney on this and he makes a strong case too. Not everyone agrees though. It’s worth reading the article and get a better picture, pardon the pun.

My thought is it’s likely all artists of the time would have used them to some extent. But Rembrandt is such a remarkable painter that it can only account for some of his greatness, if any.

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One of the the better reviews of WeWork and their IPO is naturally this one, by Stratechery


Stratechery is always great and this piece is no different: The WeWork IPO – Stratechery by Ben Thompson.

What makes it good is that rather than just slamming WeWork superficially, as many takes have, it delves into what could possibly justify why WeWork is a good investment.

My take is that if WeWork had a different executive, it could be a successful company. I think the comparison to AWS is somewhat valid, and in the gig economy with lots of short term work, it could become very successful. (It worked really well for a recent project I was on).

That said, I believe the executive team of WeWork will not be able to handle any drying up of capital or a recession of any length. Or investors will wake up and ask themselves why WeWork should be valued way more than IWG/Regus. Time will tell, of course.

One last thing: my understanding is that WeWork had to start from scratch in terms of buying up / leasing real estate, but AWS did not start from scratch and took advantage of existing capacity Amazon currently had.

(Image link to the original piece in the article reference)