Santa Fe Emergent Engineering 2021: Niall Ferguson

This year the Santa Fe Institute held its Annual ACtioN & Board of Trustees Symposium: Emergent Engineering during which Niall Ferguson spoke about Emergently Engineering the Past. Some highlights from his presentation: Most of what we call #history is the close study of tail events that really are interesting because of the scale of mortality, the spectacular nature of the failure, the nature that disasters are not evenly distributed....

November 5, 2021 · 1 min · 186 words

Intellectual Warehouse

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....

June 4, 2021 · 7 min read · 1467 words

Scribble, Scribble, Scribble

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’....

May 17, 2021 · 3 min read · 516 words

I Saw The World End

I went up to the hillside and took a panorama view of the city and found the whole city on fire. — Kiyoshi Tanimoto, Japanese Methodist minister The devastation that unfolded in the seconds following the explosion in Beirut has been likened to an atomic bomb. The timing of the analogy is striking as #onthisday in 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The Imperial War Museum commissioned a piece to commemorate the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: ‘I Saw The World End’....

August 6, 2020 · 1 min · 175 words

Late Abroad Again

August 16th 1665 It was dark before I could get home; and so land at church-yard stairs, where to my great trouble I met a dead Corps, of the plague, in the narrow ally, just bringing down a little pair of stairs - but I thank God I was not much disturbed at it. However, I shall beware of being late abroad again. - Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703)...

August 3, 2020 · 4 min read · 668 words

Armada

At midnight #onthisday in 1588, the English ignited eight fire ships and cast them into the Spanish fleet which was menacing Blighty. Though the Spanish misjudged the situation, fearing the vessels were hellburners, the effect was to break the crescent formation of the Spanish ships which had hampered English attempts to engage with the fleet. Though folklore, and blockbuster movies, make much of the battle that ensued, history tells a different story....

July 29, 2020 · 2 min read · 260 words

Fête Nationale

I could not let July 14 pass without a nod to that most French of occasions: Bastille Day. A celebration which marks both the anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 and the Fête de la Fédération of 14 July 1790. Being the unregenerate Anglo-Saxon I am, it is the storming of a nearly empty building housing only seven prisoners which takes the lions share of the point of the celebration....

July 14, 2020 · 3 min read · 529 words

The Struggle is Topic

Yesterday I wrote about the challenge of mental indigestion, but today I am vexed by that other perennial spectre of blogging everyday: topic. This is not to say there is any dearth of ideas. So far, today alone, I have pondered writing about policing of people, policing of bookcases, freedom of speech, shoulder taps on social media, online censorship, fair market value, Mosasaur eggs and great pizza shops near Vatican City....

June 18, 2020 · 1 min · 213 words

Peasants' Revolt

#OnThisDay in 1381, Wat Tyler is beheaded following a skirmish during the Peasants' Revolt. But the tale of the revolt begins some months earlier and ultimately had its roots in the socio-economic dislocation which resulted from the Black Death pandemic some forty years before in the 1340s. Though the proximate causes of the revolt is usually cited as the unpopular poll tax, largely a result of demonstrators co-opting it as an example to hurl at Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s when she introduced similar measures, it was a wide spectrum movement which sought an end to serfdom and the removal of senior officials at court....

June 15, 2020 · 3 min read · 584 words

Damnatio Memoriae

Damnatio memoriae is a Latin phrase which loosely translates as ‘condemned to oblivion’. It was, or given the modern cancel culture perhaps I should say it is, the practice of removing a person’s name from history. Like many Roman practices, it originated in another culture. One of the earliest examples is to be found in the reign of Hatshepsut, who reigned as pharaoh of Egypt in the fourteenth century BC. As ever with modernity, it is seldom that modern....

June 11, 2020 · 3 min read · 543 words