Intellectual Warehouse

Vannevar Bush seated at a desk

In a recent article, The Memex Method, Cory Doctorow unpacked the notion of making a public database of your commonplace book. The idea is based on Vannevar Bush’s 1945 ‘As We May Think,’ in which Dr. Bush posited the idea of a memory expander: Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and to coin one at random, “memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted … Read more

The New Cathedral Door

The Infant Hercules and the Standard Oil serpents

In taking up the keyboard again, since I finished 100DaysToOffload last year, I have been digging through my thoughts folder, if you will permit a reification, and came across some musings from last year when I was listening to the Big Brother Watch podcasts. One episode in particular, Social Media Censorship and the Impact on Free Speech, presented some chilling changes which happened when we began our first spate of lockdowns as the Covid epidemic grew into a global pandemic. On April 22, 2020, Twitter announced it was broadening it’s guidance on unverified claims about Covid-19. In the announcement tweet, … Read more

Jotting – Protect Duty

Lightbulb Moment

The Government is committed to improving the safety and security of public venues, as outlined in its 2019 manifesto. This consultation considers how we can work together to develop proportionate security measures to improve public security. It also considers how those responsible for publicly accessible locations are ready and prepared to take appropriate action, were a terrorist attack to happen.

Analysis

As a historian I am deeply conscious of the inertia that government has exerted over the past half millennia. A centralising tendency which has gone well beyond a Hobbsean utopia, or dystopia depending on your preference, and created a near universal sentiment of ‘what is the government doing about this?’ What this is varies, but today this is anti-terrorism initiatives.

While I am not keen on the idea of self-policing, lest we go the way of some American states, I do wonder if society may not be better able to protect its citizens if its citizens were more involved in that self-same protection. Be it physical, intellectual or cyber.

If society, in reaction to recent calls to ‘defund the police,’ does take such bold and original action, something will, unless you are a committed anarchist, need to be put in its place. Perhaps the Protect Duty initiative might stimulate some solutions.

If not, then maybe it will be able to add some responsibilities to match the rights many of us demand in a democracy.


Lightbulb Articles

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/protect-duty

Scribble, Scribble, Scribble

Page from Pushkin's manuscript

I think it was the George III who is reputed to have said to the great historian Edward Gibbon: “Another damned, thick, square book! Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh! Mr. Gibbon?” Apocryphal or not, the sentiment is the apologetic title of another great historian’s book: Scribble, Scribble, Scribble: Writings on Ice Cream, Obama, Churchill & My Mother by Simon Schama. It is a glorious read that, like all of his work, lives up to John Clive’s assertion: ‘historical wisdom only deserve[s] to endure if it ha[s] a proper quotient of wit, force and literary power.’ No matter your predilections, there … Read more

Jotting – WHO

Lightbulb Moment

ON FRIDAY, APRIL 30, the WHO quietly updated a page on its website. In a section on how the coronavirus gets transmitted, the text now states that the virus can spread via aerosols as well as larger droplets. As Zeynep Tufekci noted in The New York Times, perhaps the biggest news of the pandemic passed with no news conference, no big declaration. If you weren’t paying attention, it was easy to miss.

Analysis

To err is human, and thus we are often making choices with less than the full facts. But when these decisions have lasting implications for life and property, we do well to both call out and own the mistakes and emendations.

Not because we should scapegoat or publicly whip those guilty of transgressions, as is even more popular in this grotesque age of ‘cancel culture,’ but because only by naming but also explaining why we got it so badly wrong can we create a safe space for analysis and improvement.

In such a safe space it is probable less time would be spent defending an incorrect position. The concomitant effect is we would then have more resources to improve our world.


Lightbulb Articles

https://www.wired.com/story/the-teeny-tiny-scientific-screwup-that-helped-covid-kill/

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/07/opinion/coronavirus-airborne-transmission.html

Hail, Lobster!

Burried as I am in books and journal articles, and abjuring the more mass apeal social networks as I do, much in popular culture passes me by. I don’t confess this with any sorrow, nor even much pride, it is just the case, to adopt that hideous phrase: ‘it is what it is.’ As a rule, I find that which is menaingul tends to endure, and generally adopt a wait and see attitude to modern culture. Generally preferring to look forward to hearing the latest music and reading the trendy books in about fifty years once Clio has cast her inevitable judgement.  But one piece of the … Read more

Bitcoin’s Dirty Little Secrets – Political

"Government" Mural by Elihu Vedder. Located in the Library of Congress

Continuing from my recent essay, Bitcoin’s Dirty Little Secrets – Environmental, I thought I should give some space to the political dimenion of Bitcoins dirty little secrets. Since the white paper was first published under the name Satoshi Nakamoto, the central premise (pun intended) of Bitcoin has been that: A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution. Yet for all the promise of an alternative to the centralised monetary systems in use by high street banks and backed by government regulators, Bitcoin is … Read more

Tool Time

Hercules' fight with the Nemean lion, by Peter Paul Rubens

I like to tinker. Perhaps it is a suppressed longing to be a UI developer, perhaps it is because my father wouldn’t let me play with Lego as a child (n.b.: this is only a rhetorical device. My father not only let me play with Lego but spent hours helping me to build and learn). Whatever the cause, when I need to decompress after a long day, I like tweaking elements of my site and generally faffing with technology.

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Bitcoin’s Dirty Little Secrets – Environmental

AIRS 2011 annual mean carbon dioxide concentration in the free troposphere

It is with no small degree of interest that I have been watching Doug Belshaw’s latest side project unfold, extinction.fyi. I have long been concerned with the negative human impact on our environment and while I am some way off from thinking the world is on fire, it is clear that business as usual is going to leave a decidedly lessened planet for our children. For our children’s children, we may even bequeath an uninhabitable planet. Thus my spotlight on the ecological effects of our choices is slowly widening and most recently has taken in cryptocurrency. 

In part thanks to Tesla investing an aggregate $1.5 billion in bitcoin, short sellers and ‘people who refuse to buy into the Elon Musk hype‘ more broadly have gone into overdrive. First surfacing the myriad financial issues, now ecowarriors are piling in to use the high profile platform as an opportunity to callout the environmental harm of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency generally.

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A Mastodon To Call My Own

Mastodon allows you to run your own server which means you have “absolute control over your own voice on the web, not subject to anyone else’s rules or whims. Your server is your property, with your rules.”