Disfarmer black and white photographs of rural America in the 1940's

Neil Gaiman on Why We Read and What Books Do for the Human Experience

I believe we have an obligation to read for pleasure, in private and in public places. If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations. We show others that reading is a good thing.

We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.

The Feynman Lectures on Physics

Caltech and The Feynman Lectures Website are pleased to present this online edition of The Feynman Lectures on Physics. Now, anyone with internet access and a web browser can enjoy reading a high quality up-to-date copy of Feynman's legendary lectures.

The Internets can be a wonderful thing, sometimes.

The Philosophy of The Matrix: From Plato and Descartes, to Eastern Philosophy

The first and by far the most respected of the trilogy, The Matrix “largely interprets Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Imagine a cave. Inside are people who were born and have spent their entire lives there, chained into a fixed position, only able to see the wall in front of them. As far as they know, this is the entire world.” The Wachowskis ask the same question Plato does: “How do we know what our reality really is?”

I always thought myself that the endless pretentious discussions about the "philosophy" of The Matrix are largely conducted by college-age single men who - in slightly different circumstances - would have been obsessing over Madame Rand. I still think the Wachowskis idly paged through some Philo 101 compendium and picked out whatever sounded cool or whatever. Or perhaps just randomly clicked through Wikipedia pages.

At Tate Britain

The most startling of these is Ford Madox Brown’s watercolour of 1863, entitled Mauvais Sujet, of a young teenage girl who is not so much engagingly naughty as alarmingly bad. The tight format derives from Rossetti’s early oil paintings of female heads and shoulders, such as Bocca Baciata of 1859, paintings of a frank sensuality free of the narcotic eroticism and religiosity that make so much of his later painting seem repellent. But Brown’s schoolgirl subject hasn’t yet led any artist into temptation. She is seated at a high desk with names and doodles scratched on its hinged top. We see the lines she has been made to copy with her quill, black lines which rhyme with the disorder of her hair. Her teeth – brighter than the white of her collar, the plume, the paper or the enamel inkwell – are biting into a brilliantly green apple. Fruit would certainly not have been allowed in the classroom and this young Eve, whose dress is also green, eats it with resentful defiance. The picture has the compositional ingenuity and thrilling compression of Brown’s great circular painting The Last of England – a compression, here greatly enhanced by the original double frame, that we miss in his later work, although he was always attracted both by defiance and by teeth.

The Whiskey Palace, Dublin.

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

T. S. Eliot

San Francisco

San Francisco.

Demand sausages

'Demand Sausages Everywhere!' 1937 Soviet poster.

I have been asked why do I hate religion so much? I reply you are mistaken. I don't hate religion. I fucking detest it and I treat it with the contempt it truly deserves.

Unknown

How To Secure Apache with Let's Encrypt on Ubuntu 16.04

It is ridiculously easy, so why not just do it? Install Let's Encrypt, run one command...

Sovetskoe Foto (Soviet Photography)

Although its publication schedule was at times irregular, Sovetskoe foto was an illustrated monthly featuring editorials, letters, articles, and photographic essays alongside advertisements for photography, photographic processes, and photographic chemicals and equipment.

Every Joke Falls in One of 11 Categories, Says Founding Editor of The Onion

“Yesterday I accidentally hit a kid with my car. It wasn’t serious – nobody saw me.” – Anthony Jeselnik

Raw Data from the Meat Atlas

Most people eat meat, but few meat-eaters have a clear understanding of the industry that provides their food. If they did, they would eat better-produced meat, less meat, or no meat at all.

But meat-eaters – like vegetarians – are understandably emotional and defensive about their eating habits. The rituals of such an intimate part of daily life are unlikely to be swayed by cold, hard facts alone.

Perhaps maps can do what those facts alone cannot. Cartography, an older language than writing, bypasses the inner critic who allows agreeable facts to add to our bias and labels disagreeable ones as 'fake news'.

5 of the Worst Criminals in Food History

From maple syrup fraudsters to The Codfather.

This site is “taking the edge off rant mode” by making readers pass a quiz before commenting

The team at NRKbeta attributes the civil tenor of its comments to a feature it introduced last month. On some stories, potential commenters are now required to answer three basic multiple-choice questions about the article before they’re allowed to post a comment. (For instance, in the digital surveillance story: "What does DGF stand for?")

This could be very interesting to see implemented across the board.

Some books I read

I read some books recently, and for once I took notes. The gist of it is here.

Fredrik Backman: A Man Called Ove is a wonderful book. Ove just wants to die as there is no-one left that need him, but he finds that there are legion. Told as a light comedy, but some darker tones underneath -- Sonja's infirmity, the childlessness, and so on. Ove is closed and silent, but he has principles. In some other story he might have been a Sweden Democrat-member, but in this one he is a fine and just man, who has a big heart.

Christopher Brookmyre is a reasonably lauded writer, and perhaps seen as the heir to the throne of Tartan Noir. I, however, fail to see this. I read the first book in his series, and the first 30 pages of the second -- and left. The first one plods along, but you give it a chance, what with the stereotypes and such. The second one starts with 30 pages of political soliloquy (what happened to showing, not telling?) Ian Rankin it ain't.

Bill Bryson: The Road to Little Dribbling is a funny and well-written sequel to Notes from a Small Island. Older and grumpier, but really not that different. Fewer personal anecdotes, perhaps, and more general tourist information -- which is not a good swap.

Robert Harris: Fatherland is brilliant -- both as alternative, tongue-in-cheek alternative history, as detective story, and as sort of a romance. Solid research and solid story telling Phillip Kerr's Gunther-series continues in this vein, except perhaps for the alternative part.

Andrew Michael Hurley: The Loney is a contemporary Gothic novel. And he pulls it off. It is very well written, with some resemblance to Patrick McGrath and his often unreliable narrators. Hurley creates a great of uncanniness without ever being explicit. We never learn what happened in the basement under Thessaly, not really.

I thought that Sarah Perry: The Essex Serpent was something like The Loney - Gothic etc. - but it is not. Not really. There is a real or imagined danger lurking. And is it no coincidence that we are by-and-large in the era of Sigmund Freud and a lurking serpent could well mean something else? We do meet, however, Eleanor Marx, and the book has interesting, if not outright strong, female characters. It is a pleasant, but somewhat meandering story, beautifully told. The ending is unfulfilled and unfulfilling, though.

And as a pleasant ending, another Rebus-installment: Rather Be the Devil. Vintage stuff. Rebus is old, frail, and he may have cancer -- but he soldiers on. Less booze and no cigs, but Cafferty makes a come-back. Perhaps this means that we have more to come? Not the best in the series, and perhaps mostly for those who are already hooked and need a fix.

The pleasures of plain text, and Emacs

I once wrote something about the tools I use on the Mac. As time goes by, however, this set of tools has changed, as has my work-flows.

I still use Evernote, but mainly for stuff that I want to save longterm. I use Pocket for the things that I just want to read later. It works nicely across computers and phone, so I often pocket something on one device and read it later on another (like on the phine on the train). Feedly is still in daily use, but I rarely open Flipboard.

The larger shift is in writing and research. Yes, still Markdown. Would never leave home without it - but I am slowly leaving Sublime Text in favor of Emacs.

Now, you could call me a masochist and a Luddite. Going for Emacs, now? Actually, the reason is orgmode, and I now believer that my earlier, botched attempts at making the siwtch was because I did not have any real reason and could not see the benefits. Deciding to use orgmode lead to Emacs, not the other way around.

I know that the whole one big text file-movement is already old hat and such, but it does still make sense. Firstly, plain text (with light markup such as Markdown) is eminently future and platform proof. One big file (or a couple of large files) as opposed to a larger number of small files is probably a matter of personal preference. I have used nvAlt a bit, and nvAlt is firmly in the many-small-files camp. But I got into orgmode and here fewer, larger files make so much more sense.

I would not necessarily recommend that you switch to Emacs. It can be painful and odd and frustrating. It is an experience from before cutesy UIs and from when users were supposed to be sentient beings. It is a window into the past. It is fun.

The setup

I will probably never be called upon to describe my setup. That does not mean I cannot describe it and publish it here, right? So, this is what rocks my boat at the moment.

…more

The neo-liberalism we live with

This rant first had the title "Private equity" and began as a diatribe about the evil that is private equity. Naturally enough: my previous company was "taken private", cost was "contained", and it is now being prepped for "going public." I mean, WTF: somebody "buys" a company that is quite healthy and that does make money, fires some 20% of the workforce, and wants to sell it again at a higher price? Because they have now reduced cost? Are they really thinking investors are that dumb? For one thing: this is a software company. Sure: it is probably possible to cut some head counts and make the bottom line look rosy for a while. Unfortunately, as this also means that new development is delayed or cancelled, what will happen in a couple of years when the prospective customers realize that the product is dead or dying?

…more

Questions, answered

The late, great Norman Geras had this ongoing feature on his blog where he asked various bloggers to describe themselves, based on a questionnaire. Now, I am not sure if the questions were always the same, and I am sure that I will never be asked to answer them – but that should not stop me from putting my answers to such a questionnaire up here.

We will skip the intro and head straight for the juicy parts:

…more

John Wiliams: Stoner

What can I say about Stoner? The book — and the author — appeared from nowhere a while ago, and suddenly became de rigueur. Color me skeptical: there is a reason authors and books are forgotten and never talked about again. Except not in this case.

…more

W. G. Sebald: The Rings of Saturn

I had of course been aware of Sebald for a while, but only as a name I recognized and I had no idea what he might be like as a writer. So only just now did I pick up this book, started reading, and realized what I had missed – but also what I can still look forward to.

…more

On photography

a picture

I don't have anything to say in any picture. My only interest in photography is to see what something looks like as a photograph. I have no preconceptions.

-- attributed to Garry Winogrand (Wikipedia / Masters of Photography)

…more

Bright-sided

I have a pretty good time reading Barbara Ehrenreichs Bright-Sided at the moment. She stands in that great, American tradition of non-fiction writing where the anecdotal is but a starting point and each page expands upon the merely personal and creates something general. Moving from the concrete to the abstract, if you will, even though Ehrenreichs theoretical and ideological underpinnings are perhaps not all that clear and perhaps this is to make the book easier to swallow for the public – or perhaps that is also the limits of her own insights.

…more